Puerto Rico braces for flooding, landslides as Tropical Depression Karen approaches

Forecasters said Tropical Depression Karen would unleash heavy rains across the northeastern Caribbean on Tuesday that could cause flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico and nearby islands.

As the storm approached, Puerto Ricans were trying to compose themselves after being shaken from their beds late Monday by a magnitude-6.0 earthquake that hit in the Atlantic near the island at a shallow depth of 10 kilometers. Three aftershocks, of magnitude 4.7 and 4.6, followed within less than an hour.

No damage was reported, and communications after the quake were swift because authorities were already on duty for Karen, said Kiara Hernández, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency.

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Schools and government offices were already ordered closed in Puerto Rico as well as in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, with officials warning people to stay indoors.

“We’ve had a number of these events now, and I know it’s like the little boy who cried wolf, but I’m urging the public to remain ever vigilant,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said.

Late Monday, Karen was centered 260 kilometers south of San Juan and moving north-northwest at 17 km/h, with maximum sustained winds of 55 km/h. It is expected to keep heading north after passing over Puerto Rico and stay well east of the Bahamas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said.

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Forecasters said it was expected to become a tropical storm again, perhaps before reaching Puerto Rico. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and forecasters said certain areas could experience stronger winds.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez activated the National Guard on Monday and urged people in flood-prone areas to seek shelter.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm two years ago and is estimated to have caused more than $100 billion in damage. More than 25,000 homes still have blue tarps for roofs and the electric grid remains unstable.

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“It’s a reality that we might have power outages,” Vázquez said.

Roberto Garcia, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s San Juan office, said five to 10 centimeters of rain was expected, with up to 20 centimeters in isolated areas, by the time the storm passed by on Tuesday. He added that some towns in the eastern part of Puerto Rico would likely be hit with moderate to serious flooding, especially those next to mountains.

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Farther north, Tropical Storm Jerry was moving northward and was projected to pass near Bermuda by Wednesday morning. It was about 480 kilometers southwest of Bermuda and had sustained winds of 100 km/h.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lorenzo formed over the far eastern Atlantic and was projected to become a major hurricane by the end of the week, though while curving out over open sea away from land. It was centered about 435 kilometers southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands and had maximum sustained winds of 85 km/h. It was heading west at 24 km/h.

© 2019 The Canadian Press

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