© Reuters. A small boat tugs a small sailboat to safety as tropical storm Fiona approaches in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico September 17, 2022. REUTERS/Ricardo Arduengo
By Ivelisse Rivera
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – The powerful storm Fiona has strengthened into a hurricane as it barrels toward Puerto Rico on Sunday, threatening to slam the U.S. territory with life-threatening flash floods and mudslides, according to the National Hurricane Center’s latest update.
The storm, which has already been blamed for one death, was about 80 kilometers south of the city of Ponce with maximum sustained winds near 130 kilometers per hour, clearing the threshold for hurricane strength, the NHC said.
Torrential rains and mudslides were also forecast for the Dominican Republic as the storm progresses northwestward.
“On the forecast track, the center of Fiona will approach Puerto Rico this morning, and move near or over Puerto Rico this afternoon or evening,” the NHC said in an update at 11:00 a.m. (1500 GMT).
U.S. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, a move that authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate disaster relief operations and provide emergency protective measures.
Puerto Rico, a Caribbean island of 3.3 million people, could be hit by up to 25 inches (63.5 cm) of rain.
“These rains will produce life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the NHC said.
Puerto Rico’s grid remains fragile after Hurricane Maria in September 2017 caused the largest blackout in U.S. history. In that category 5 storm, 1.5 million customers lost electricity with 80% of power lines knocked out.
Authorities have opened about 80 shelters and closed beaches and casinos, and residents were urged to seek shelter.
The one death reported so far from Fiona was in the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe, after heavy rains swept away his house in the Basse-Terre district, authorities said on Saturday.