SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Dorian was dumping rain Tuesday on the Windward Islands of the eastern Caribbean, gathering strength on a path to hit Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic as a hurricane on Wednesday.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center issued tropical storm warnings for Martinique, St. Lucia and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The center said the storm has maximum sustained winds near 50 miles per hour (85 kph) and is forecast to strengthen during the next 48 hours before hitting the U.S. territory.
“Dorian is forecast to be a hurricane when it moves near Puerto Rico and eastern Hispaniola,” the center said.
The storm was expected to dump between 3 to 8 inches (8 to 20 centimeters) of rain in the Windward islands, with isolated amounts of 10 inches (25 centimeters).
Much of Barbados shut down as Dorian approached and authorities urged residents to remain indoors amid reports of electrical outages and other minor incidents. Minister of Home Affairs Edmund Hinkson said Tuesday that Dorian “is said to be weakening and that is great news, but we are not out of danger yet.”
Tropical storm watches were in force for Dominica, Grenada, Saba and St. Eustatius
In St. Lucia, Prime Minister Allen Chastanet said “we are expecting the worst” and announced that everything on the island of nearly 179,000 people would shut down Monday evening ahead of the storm, but it remained below hurricane strength early Tuesday.
Some were still boarding up windows and buying food and water on Monday, but not Joannes Lamontagne, who lives in the island’s southwest region. He said by phone that everything at his hotel, Serenity Escape, was already protected.
“I don’t wait until it’s announced,” he said of the storm. “We’re always prepared no matter what.”
In Puerto Rico, hundreds of people have been crowding into grocery stores and gas stations to prepare for Dorian, buying food, water and generators, among other things. Many are worried about power outages and heavy rains on an island still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit in September 2017. Some 30,000 homes still have blue tarps as roofs and the electrical grid remains fragile and prone to outages even during brief rain showers.
Forecasters said the storm could pass near or south of Puerto Rico on Wednesday and approach the Dominican Republic on Wednesday night.
On Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez signed an executive order declaring a state of emergency and provided a list of all the new equipment that public agencies have bought since Hurricane Maria.
“I want everyone to feel calm,” she said. “Agency directors have prepared for the last two years. The experience of Maria has been a great lesson for everyone.”
She said public schools will close Tuesday afternoon and that at least one cruise ship canceled its trip to Puerto Rico. She said those without a proper roof can stay in one of the 360 shelters around the island.
Also on Monday, a new tropical depression formed between the U.S. eastern coast and Bermuda. It was located about 365 miles (590 kilometers) southeast of Cape Hatteras in North Carolina and was moving east at 2 mph (4 kph) with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph). It was expected to become a tropical storm by Tuesday night and continue blowing off the U.S. East Coast this week on a path to Canada’s North Atlantic provinces.