Tropical Storm Dorian threatened Puerto Rico with a direct hit on Wednesday, as forecasters said it made a last-minute shift in its path and could reach near-hurricane strength in its approach to the U.S. territory. (Aug. 28)
Tropical Storm Dorian is expected to become a hurricane after it blows through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Wednesday and makes its way toward Florida, according to the latest forecasts.
Dorian’s exact path remains uncertain, but the National Hurricane Center said the threat of tropical storm, or even hurricane conditions, in Florida is increasing: The latest track has Dorian as a Category 2 storm with winds at 100 mph just off Florida early Monday.
The storm will be at near-hurricane strength when it batters Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, passing just over or near the islands that are under hurricane watch, the weather service says.
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The storm’s path made a last-minute shift that threatened a direct hit on Puerto Rico, which could bring landslides, flash flooding and power outages. President Donald Trump declared an emergency Tuesday and ordered federal assistance.
“Practically the entire island will be under sustained tropical storm force winds,” Roberto García, director of U.S. National Weather Service San Juan, told reporters Tuesday night.
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At 8 a.m. Wednesday, Dorian was swirling at 13 mph northwest toward the islands. With winds up to 60 mph, it was located about 60 miles from St. Croix.
The storm is forecast to dump 4 to 6 inches of rain, with isolated patches up to 10 inches, on southern and eastern Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands.
Dorian is then expected to move north into the southwestern Atlantic where forecasters say it could gain even more power.
“Nearly all of the intensity models show Dorian becoming a hurricane in about two days, with additional strengthening beyond that time,” the hurricane center said.
On Thursday, the storm should be east of the Turks and Caicos and the southeastern Bahamas. By Friday or Saturday, forecasters expect it near or to the east of the central and northwestern Bahamas
The hurricane center urged residents in the northwestern Bahamas and parts of Florida’s east coast to monitor the storm’s progress and have a plan in place as tropical storm or hurricane conditions along with storm surge could punish the area.
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Dorian already battered Barbados and St. Lucia this week, downing trees and power lines.
In Puerto Rico, the threat of a direct hit sparked fears as the island is still recovering from the devastation of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that wiped out power two years ago.
Top officials say they are prepared this time with better equipment, though some fear persists. José Ortiz, executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Power Authority, told the Associated Press that the power system still has some weak areas and could “suffer” given the storm’s current wind speeds. But he said the agency has thousands of lights, poles and transformers.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez told anyone living in a flood-prone area or with a tarp as a roof should go to one of the islands 360 shelters. Public schools were closed at least until Thursday.
“We learned our lesson quite well after Maria,” Vázquez said. “We are going to be much better prepared.”
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, Tropical Storm Erin formed Tuesday night, but forecasters expect it to move north from the U.S. East Coast and off into the ocean with no threat to land.
Contributing: The Associated Press. Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller
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