Dorian aims for US, causes limited damage in Caribbean

Hurricane Dorian caused limited damage in the northern Caribbean as it left the region and gathered strength late yesterday, setting its sights on the US mainland as it threatened to grow into a Category Three storm.

Power outages and flooding were reported across the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra after Dorian hit St Thomas as a Category One storm.

“We’re happy because there are no damages to report,” Culebra Mayor William Solís told The Associated Press, noting that only one community lost power.

Meanwhile, Dorian caused an islandwide blackout in St Thomas and St John in the US Virgin Islands and scattered power outages in St Croix, Government spokesman Richard Motta told the AP. In addition, the storm downed trees and at least one electric post in St Thomas, he said, adding that there were no reports of major flooding so far.

“We are grateful that it wasn’t a stronger storm,” he said.

There were no immediate reports of damage in the British Virgin Islands, where Gov Augustus Jaspert said crews were already clearing roads and inspecting infrastructure by late yesterday afternoon.

Dorian had prompted US President Donald Trump to declare a state of emergency Tuesday night and order federal assistance for local authorities.

The Hurricane Center said the storm could grow into a dangerous Category Three storm as it pushes north-west in the general direction of Florida.

Dennis Feltgen, a Hurricane Center meteorologist in Miami, said Dorian may grow in size and could land anywhere from South Florida to South Carolina on Sunday or Monday.

“This will be a large storm approaching the south-east,” he said.

People in Florida were starting to get ready for a possible Labour Day weekend strike, with county governments along Florida’s east-central coast distributing sandbags and many residents rushing to warehouse retailers to load up on water, canned food, and emergency supplies.

“All Floridians on the East Coast should have seven days of supplies, prepare their homes, and follow the track closely,” Gov Ron DeSantis said in a tweet. Later Wednesday, he declared a state of emergency for the counties in the storm’s path.

A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning remained in effect for Puerto Rico, with Dorian expected to dump four to six inches (10 to 15 centimetres) of rain with isolated amounts of eight inches (20 centimetres) in the eastern part of the island.

However, Puerto Rico seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief to many on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria, a Category Four storm.

Ramonita Torres, a thin, stooped, 74-year-old woman who lives by herself in the impoverished, flood-prone neighbourhood of Las Monjas in the capital of San Juan, was still trying to rebuild the home she nearly lost after Maria, but was not able to secure the pieces of zinc that now serve as her roof.

“There’s no money for that,” she said, shaking her head.

Several hundred customers were without power across Puerto Rico by Wednesday evening, according to Ángel Figueroa, president of a union that represents power workers.

Police said an 80-year-old man in the northern town of Bayamón died yesterday after he fell trying to climb up to his roof to clear it of debris ahead of the storm.

Dorian initially had been projected to brush the western part of Puerto Rico and the change in the storm’s course caught some off guard in Culebra and Vieques, both popular tourist destinations.

Earlier, Trump sent a tweet assuring islanders that: “FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job.”

He added a jab at Puerto Rican officials who had accused his Administration of a slow and inadequate response to Hurricane Maria: “When they do, let them know it, and give them a big thank you — Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent mayor of San Juan!”

The mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, tweeted that Trump needs to “Calm down get out of the way and make way for those of us who are actually doing the work on the ground,” adding that maybe he “will understand this time around this is not about him; this is not about politics; this is about saving lives”.

Dorian earlier caused power outages and downed trees in Barbados and St Lucia and flooding in islands including Martinique.