Tropical Storm Isaias unleashes flooding, landslides in Puerto Rico
Tropical Storm Isaias battered Puerto Rico on Thursday as it continued on a track toward the East Coast of the U.S., unleashing small landslides and causing widespread flooding and power outages on an island still recovering from previous hurricanes and earthquakes.
The storm’s maximum sustained winds of 60 mph also toppled trees and some telephone and electrical cables across the island.
Especially hard hit was Puerto Rico’s southern region, which is still being shaken by daily tremors that began in late December. Santos Seda, mayor of the southwest town of Guánica, told the Associated Press that he has received reports of downed trees and inundated neighborhoods where earthquake-damaged homes still stand.
“The emotional state of people is deteriorating more every day,” he said, adding that crews will fan out to assess damage once the weather clears.
The storm could also delay the scheduled return to Earth this weekend of the first SpaceX crew.
Isaias was centered about 165 miles southeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, late Thursday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami. It was moving northwest at 20 mph, and its center was expected to move over Hispaniola — the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic — later Thursday and near the southeastern Bahamas by early Friday.
New Census Bureau data show Puerto Rico lost nearly 4% of its population after Hurricane Maria — the greatest population drop in the recorded history of the island, according to one demographer.
The storm knocked out power to more than 400,000 customers across Puerto Rico and left about 150,000 without water, according to government officials. Meanwhile, crews opened the floodgates of one dam that last month had such a low water level that officials cut service on alternate days for some 140,000 customers. Outages also were reported in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.
Minor damage was reported elsewhere in Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people are still using tarps for roofs on homes damaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
José Pagán, a 22-year-old who lives in the eastern mountain town of Juncos, said his power went out before dawn.
“I didn’t think it was going to be this strong,” he said of the storm, adding that his home is slightly flooded. “It’s a rather difficult experience because it reminds us of Maria.”
Hanna was lashing the Texas Gulf Coast with high winds and drenching rains that destroyed boats, flooded streets and knocked out power.
The hurricane center said Isaias, for now, is not expected to become a hurricane before reaching the U.S. mainland.
“Isaias is sending some mixed signals,” the center’s forecast discussion said. “The intensity forecast remains challenging.”
Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico,the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.
Isaias was expected to produce four to eight inches of rain across Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and northern Haiti, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches.
Isaias formed in the Atlantic Ocean on Wednesday evening, prompting forecasters to issue a tropical storm warning for several islands in the Caribbean.
Isaias broke the record as the earliest ninth named storm in the Atlantic, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was Irene on Aug. 7, 2005, Klotzbach tweeted.
So far this year, Cristobal, Danielle, Edouard, Fay, Gert and Hanna also set records for being the earliest named Atlantic storm for their alphabetic order.
The government of the Bahamas upgraded its tropical storm watch for the central Bahamas to a tropical storm warning and has issued a tropical storm watch for the northwestern Bahamas.
Tropical storm conditions are forecast to reach the southeastern Bahamas and Turks and Caicos by Thursday afternoon.
Tropical storm conditions are expected in the Central Bahamas beginning Friday morning and are possible in the northwestern Bahamas beginning late Friday.
Isaias is expected to produce three to six inches of rain across the British and U.S. Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos and eastern Cuba, with isolated maximum totals of eight inches.
The southeastern Bahamas could see four to eight inches of rain.
These rainfall amounts may lead to life-threatening flash flooding and mudslides, as well as potential river flooding beginning Wednesday night.
The storm is also likely to bring life-threatening surf and rip current conditions affecting portions of the Leeward Islands, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico through Thursday. These swells are forecast to reach the north coast of the Dominican Republic, the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday.
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