Tropical Storm Fred swirled just southwest of Puerto Rico early Wednesday heading for the Dominican Republic and Haiti, with forecasters warning that its heavy rains could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides.
After a quiet month of no named storms in the region, Fred became the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season as expected late Tuesday. Tropical storm warnings were in effect for the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic’s north coast.
On the forecast track, Fred’s center was expected to be near or over Hispaniola later Wednesday and to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday. Hispaniola is the island shared by the Dominican Republic and Haiti.
“The most important thing today is preparation,” said Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi. “I am not going to minimize the potential impact of this event. … We expect a lot of rain.”
Rains pelted the northern Caribbean and power outages were reported in Puerto Rico, where Luma, the company in charge of the U.S. territory’s transmission and distribution system, warned those who depend on electricity for life-saving medical devices to activate emergency plans.
“Puerto Rico’s system … continues to be very fragile,” the company said, referring to a power grid that was razed by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
Fred was centered about 160 miles east-southeast of Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic early Wednesday and was moving west at 17 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
The Dominican Republic, Haiti and the southern Bahamas could get hit Wednesday, and people in Florida were urged to monitor updates, but forecasters said it remained uncertain where the storm would move later in the week.
Pierluisi said government agencies in Puerto Rico would close and officials noted that some gas stations had shut down after running out of fuel. The heaviest rain was expected to fall overnight, forecasters said.
Eight shelters were opened across the island.
“Do not wait until the last minute to mobilize,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner. “We don’t want to have fatalities.”
More than a month had passed since the last Atlantic storm, Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the start of the peak of hurricane season.