News World News

Thursday 19 September 2019

Hurricane Dorian gathering strength as it hits the US Virgin Islands

The category one hurricane could reach category three when it strikes the US mainland.

People arrive to a private harbour to move boats away for protection ahead of the arrival of Dorian in Boqueron, Puerto Rico (Ramon Espinosa/AP)
People arrive to a private harbour to move boats away for protection ahead of the arrival of Dorian in Boqueron, Puerto Rico (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

By Danica Coto, Associated Press Reporter

Dorian became a category one hurricane as it struck the US Virgin Islands, with forecasters saying it could grow to category one status as it nears the US mainland as early as the weekend.

The British Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra were also in Dorian’s path with landslides, widespread flooding and power outages possible in the US territory, which faced its first major test of emergency preparedness since the 2017 devastation of Hurricane Maria.

“Dorian brings uncertainty, and, for those of us who experienced the storms of 2017, uncomfortable memories,” said British Virgin Islands Governor Augustus Jaspert.

“Take heart.”

Dorian prompted President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency on Tuesday night and order federal assistance for local authorities.

At 2pm EDT, Dorian was located over St Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

The US National Hurricane Centre said it had maximum sustained winds of 75mph while moving northwest at 13mph.

The Hurricane Centre said the storm could grow into a dangerous Category Three storm as it pushes northwest in the general direction of Florida.

Dennis Feltgen, a National Hurricane Centre meteorologist in Miami, said Dorian may grow in size and could land anywhere from South Florida to South Carolina on Sunday or Monday.

“This will be a large storm approaching the Southeast,” he said.

A hurricane tropical storm warning was in effect for Puerto Rico, with Dorian expected to dump four to six inches of rain with isolated amounts of eight inches.

It is a forecast that worries many in Puerto Rico because blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria.

ipanews_8653cb51-d724-4ed2-8c0e-a7eb2da0a9d6_embedded244900279
Dorian, a Category One hurricane, crossing over the US and British Virgin Islands (NOAA via AP)

The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria, a Category Four storm.

Ramonita Torres, a thin, stooped, 74-year-old woman lives by herself in the impoverished, flood-prone neighbourhood of Las Monjas in the capital of San Juan.

She was still trying to rebuild the home she nearly lost after Maria but was not able to secure the pieces of zinc that now serve as her roof.

“There’s no money for that,” she said, shaking her head.

A reported 23,000 customers were without power across Puerto Rico by early Wednesday afternoon, according to Angel Figueroa, president of a union that represents power workers.

Police said an 80-year-old man in the northern town of Bayamon died on Wednesday after he fell trying to climb up to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.

In the US Virgin Islands, which is still struggling to recover from hurricanes Irma and Maria, officials were reporting power outages and light rain by 1.30pm EDT.

“Winds have picked up significantly. We’re starting to get some of those heavier gusts,” the governor’s spokesman, Richard Motta, said in a telephone interview.

ipanews_8653cb51-d724-4ed2-8c0e-a7eb2da0a9d6_embedded244898435
Emergency Centre personnel stand next to a TV screen showing a meteorological image of Dorian (Ramon Espinosa/AP)

Dorian earlier had been projected to brush the western part of the US territory and the change in the storm’s course caught many off guard in the tiny island of Vieques just east of Puerto Rico, a popular tourist destination that now lies in Dorian’s path.

Mr Trump sent a tweet assuring that “We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job.”

ipanews_8653cb51-d724-4ed2-8c0e-a7eb2da0a9d6_embedded244887686
People drink beer on a patio before the arrival of Dorian in Boqueron, Puerto Rico (ramon Espinosa/AP)

He added a jab at Puerto Rican officials who have accused the government of a slow and inadequate response to Hurricane Maria: “When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You — Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!”

The mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, tweeted that Trump needs to “calm down get out of the way and make way for those of us who are actually doing the work on the ground,” adding that maybe he “will understand this time around this is not about him; this is not about politics; this is about saving lives.”

Dorian earlier caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St Lucia.

Although top government officials in Puerto Rico said they were prepared for the storm and had sufficient equipment, a couple of mayors, including those in the western region, said they did not have enough generators or shelters that were properly set up.

Jose Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, acknowledged that the distribution system still has weak areas and could “suffer” under winds of 50 to 60mph.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis has declared a state of emergency and is urging residents to take precautions as Dorian strengthens in the Caribbean on a path expected to take it to the US mainland.

PA Media

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editors Choice

Also in World News