Tropical Storm Fred whirled toward the Dominican Republic and Haiti on Wednesday, with forecasters warning that heavy rains could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides. After a calm month with no storms in the region, Fred turned the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it passed through the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on a predicted trajectory that would take it to Florida over the weekend.
Tropical storm warnings were halted in U.S. areas after they pelted the islands with rain. More than 13,000 customers were without power in Puerto Rico, where Luma, the company responsible for the transmission and distribution system, warned those who rely on electricity for life-saving medical devices to activate emergency plans.
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“Puerto Rico’s system … remains very fragile,” the company said, referring to the electrical grid that Hurricane Maria devastated in 2017.
Fred was 25 miles south-southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday morning, moving west-northwest at 16 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 45 mph.
The Dominican Republic, Haiti and central and eastern Cuba could be hit on Wednesday, and people in Florida were urged to keep an eye out for updates. Forecasters said Fred’s center was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, and north of central Cuba’s north coast on Friday.
CBS News weather producer David Parkinson said Fred’s most likely path is heading like a tropical storm over the Florida Keys Saturday morning, although a landfall south of Miami or in the Upper Keys cannot be ruled out.
If the storm follows that most likely path, it would enter the Gulf of Mexico and intensify into a stronger tropical storm or weak Category 1 hurricane, Parkinson said. The landing was set to take place sometime between Sunday evening and Monday afternoon at the Florida Panhandle, anywhere from Pensacola to the “Big Bend.”
“The only thing that will be remembered about this storm is how much rain it will bring,” Parkinson said. Early projections show at least half a foot in the Keys and southwest Florida, and possibly 9 inches in the Panhandle.
As the storm moves inland, it could drop 6-plus inches across the state of South Carolina and western North Carolina. That part of North Carolina could see “devastating flash flooding,” Parkinson said.
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi closed government agencies at noon on Tuesday, and officials noted that some gas stations were closed after fuel ran out. The heaviest rain would fall at night, forecasters said.
Eight shelters were opened across the island, although officials said only seven people had checked in by noon.
“Don’t wait until the last minute to mobilize,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner. “We don’t want fatalities.”
More than a month had passed since the last Atlantic storm, Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the beginning of the peak of hurricane season.
The hurricane center warned for the Dominican Republic on the south coast from Punta Palenque east and on the north coast from the Dominican Republic/Haiti border east. There was a watch for Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Gonaives and for the Cuban provinces of Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago and Guantanamo. Also included in the watch were the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas.
The storm was expected to produce 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 centimeters) of rain over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with up to 15 centimeters in some areas.