SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The Atlantic season’s first hurricane, Beryl, formed Friday and headed for a weekend push into the eastern Caribbean, threatening islands still struggling to recover from last year’s storms.
A hurricane watch was issued for Dominica as the Category 1 storm reached maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. The island’s meteorological service warned of six to 12 inches of rain and said weather conditions would start deteriorating Saturday night on Dominica, which is rebuilding from Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 5 storm last year.
A tropical storm watch was issued for the French Caribbean territories of Martinique, Guadeloupe, St. Martin and St. Barts.
The hurricane center said Beryl could strengthen a bit more in the next few days but predicted it would begin weakening after entering the Caribbean late Sunday or early Monday. It is forecast to pass about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Puerto Rico on Monday, but forecasters said the storm-wracked U.S. territory could experience winds of more than 40 mph (64 kph) and flooding and mudslides from up to four inches (10 centimeters) of rain.
“People have to remain alert,” Gabriel Lojero, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in San Juan, told The Associated Press. “The forecast could change for the better or worse.”
Beryl was a compact storm, with hurricane force winds extending out about 10 miles (20 kilometers) from its center.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello declared a state of emergency for the island and suspended work for Monday.
Rossello told reporters the island would probably experience power outages, given that its electricity grid has become more vulnerable since Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm last September and caused damage estimated at more than $100 billion. He said, however, that the recovery should be quicker since there are more power restoration crews and more equipment on the island now. Nearly 2,000 customers still remain in the dark since Maria, and the U.S. government has 179 generators still operating on the island.
The governor urged people without sturdy roofs to stay in one of the 424 shelters that the government planned to open across the island. He recently noted that some 60,000 people still have a tarp as a roof.
“There are a lot of Puerto Ricans who are in a vulnerable position,” Rossello said. “We are keeping an eye on this minute by minute. It is not the moment to panic, but it’s the moment to prepare.”
Puerto Rico Health Secretary Rafael Rodriguez urged all those with serious health conditions, including diabetics, to seek shelter at health facilities, which have generators.
Forecasters said Beryl probably would dissipate once it moved south of Haiti and the Dominican Republic.
Beryl was centered 890 miles (1,430 kilometers) east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles late Friday and was moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).
Meanwhile, a tropical depression formed in the Atlantic well off the North Carolina coast, and the hurricane center said it was expected to remain offshore as it strengthens into a tropical storm on Saturday.
At 5 p.m. EDT, the storm was centered about 230 miles (370.13 kilometers) south-southeast of Cape Hatteras with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph (48 kph). It was moving north-northwest at 5 mph (8 kph).
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