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Dorian upgraded to hurricane as storm closes in on Puerto Rico

Posted: 11:52 AM, Aug 28, 2019
Updated: 2019-08-28 17:37:23-04
Dorian upgraded to hurricane as storm closes in on Puerto Rico

Hurricane-force winds and heavy rains ripped through the British and US Virgin Islands as Dorian neared Puerto Rico Wednesday afternoon.

Dorian's wind speeds won't approach those of Maria, the Category 4 storm that left more than 2,900 people dead in 2017. But they could be enough to strain Puerto Rican power infrastructure that's still in tenuous condition, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.

As the storm approaches eastern Puerto Rico, it's threatening floods and landslides in some areas that were hard hit two years ago by Hurricane Maria . Meanwhile, the worst of the storms continues to impact the US Virgin Islands, where flash flood warnings are in effect for St. John and St. Thomas.

Images from St. John showed heavy winds lashing trees and rain rushing through streets.

The storm's center was near the island of St. Thomas around 4 p.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds of around 75 mph , just above minimum hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center said.

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The hurricane has already claimed its first indirect victim. An 80-year-old man fell from the roof of his house in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, as he was cleaning a drain while preparing for the storm, Puerto Rico Public safety Secretary Elmer Roman said at a briefing Wednesday.

Dorian's center may avoid Puerto Rico and slide just to its east late Wednesday afternoon, Myers said. But it still could dump 4 to 10 inches of rain in a matter of hours in parts of that island and the British and US Virgin Islands.

The storm's projected path has shifted significantly over the past day. Once projected to swing south of Puerto Rico and rumble over the Dominican Republic, it's now forecast that the center will miss Hispaniola altogether, though the Dominican Republic still could get tropical-storm rain and winds.

"It has danced a little bit north," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said of the storm's path. "The worst of the wind and the rain, too, is probably going to be in the Virgin Islands."

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Later this week, Dorian may strengthen over Atlantic waters and approach Florida or other parts of the southeastern US coast over the Labor Day weekend as a Category 3 hurricane , the hurricane center forecast late Wednesday morning. It's still far too early to know exactly where or when the storm, considered a major hurricane at that predicted strength, could hit the US mainland.

US Virgin Islands under curfew

On the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, Stacy Mooney was recording the heavy rain outside Wednesday morning and captured a sudden flash of blue-green light in the distance. Power went out for a few minutes afterward, she wrote on Facebook, and she wondered if she had seen electric equipment failing.

"Overall, things are fine," she told CNN. "The winds have been fierce."

The US Virgin Islands will be under curfew from noon Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday because of the storm, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said.

Puerto Rico prepares for impact

In the city of Ponce on Puerto Rico's southern coast, people still have tarps over their homes from Maria's damage, Mayor Maria "Mayita" Melendez told CNN. The city was hit with $1 billion in damages from Maria, she estimates.

Dorian's rains easily could worsen a still-fragile reality, Myers said.

"There's already so much damage on the ground from (Maria) that this isn't going to take a lot to make a significant amount of damage, especially flooding," he said.

The tin roof over Lucy Beascochea's home still has holes in it, meaning every time it rains, water leaks in, she told CNN Tuesday. She is nervous about the approaching storm, she said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Monday declared a state of emergency for the island and urged people to prepare for the storm.

"For citizens who do not yet have safe roofs, we will have shelters ready," Vázquez said on Twitter.

Schools across Puerto Rico are closed Wednesday.

"Thankfully, I've been preparing since May," said Krystle Rivera, whose family has been stocking up on water, canned food and gas in anticipation of the hurricane season.

By Wednesday morning, about 23 shelters were available across the island, but only about 40 people had arrived to use them, Puerto Rico Emergency and Disaster Management Commissioner Carlos A. Acevedo Caballero said.