Puerto Rico was bracing on Wednesday for the arrival of tropical storm Dorian, closing schools and diverting cruise liners even as it struggles to recover from back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.
The hurricanes killed about 3,000 people just months after the territory filed for bankruptcy to restructure $120 billion in debt and pension obligations.
Having been criticized over the response to the 2017 storms, the White House said in a statement that President Donald Trump had approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, allowing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in co-ordination with disaster preparedness efforts.
“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vazquez said during a televised news conference.
Tropical Storm <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/Dorian?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Dorian</a> is a little stronger and it is approaching the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Here are the latest Key Messages from NHC. You can always go to <a href=”https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb”>https://t.co/tW4KeGdBFb</a> for details. <a href=”https://t.co/ll3xzcNLzI”>pic.twitter.com/ll3xzcNLzI</a>
Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of his predecessor, said preparations for the storm were more than 90 per cent complete, culminating with the opening of emergency shelters.
Infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they had been in 2017, she added.
The National Hurricane Center said nearly all the intensity models show Dorian becoming a hurricane after hitting Puerto Rico and then getting stronger while threatening the Bahamas and the southeastern U.S.
Dorian’s exact path remains difficult to predict, but forecasters said nearly all their models suggest residents of Florida should keep close watch as the storm approaches the U.S. coast this weekend.
Tropical Storm Erin, meanwhile, is posing no threat to land as it churns off the U.S. eastern seaboard. Forecasters expect it to weaken by Thursday.
By Wednesday morning, the storm was about 140 kilometres southeast of St. Croix, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, carrying maximum sustained winds of 95 km/h, the NHC said.
Dorian is expected to dump 101 to 203 millimetres of rain on Florida when it reaches the state, the NHC said.
The Dominican Republic also ramped up storm preparations on Tuesday.
Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations centre, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.
In Puerto Rico, public schools will be closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.
Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner Allure of the Sea cancelled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line adjusted its itineraries, Vazquez said.
Carnival Cruise Line confirmed the changes. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond.