Storm Isaias unleashes flooding, landslides in Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaias battered Puerto Rico on Thursday as it continued on a track toward the US mainland, unleashing small landslides and causing widespread flooding and power outages on an island still recovering from previous hurricanes and ongoing earthquakes.

Especially hard hit by the storm’s maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (96 kph) was Puerto Rico’s southern region, which is still being shaken by daily tremors. Santos Seda, mayor of the southwest town of Guánica, told The Associated Press that he has received reports of downed trees and inundated neighbourhoods 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.

Isaias was located about 100 miles (160 kilometres) west-southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico, and about 160 miles (257 kilometres) southeast of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, according to the US National Hurricane Center. It was moving west northwest at 21 mph (33 kph), and the centre was expected to move over Hispaniola later on Thursday and near the southeastern Bahamas by early Friday.

Minor damage was reported elsewhere in Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people still use tarps as roofs since Hurricane Maria hit as a powerful Category 4 storm 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.”

The hurricane centre said Isaias, for now, is not expected to become a hurricane before reaching the US mainland.

“Isaias is sending some mixed signals,” the forecast discussion stated. “Model forecasts are showing a complex evolution of the tropical cyclone during the next day or two.”

Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the US and British Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.

Isaias is expected to produce three to six inches (seven to 17 centimetres) of rain across the British and US Virgin Islands and Turks and Caicos and also across Puerto Rico, northern Haiti, and eastern Cuba with isolated maximum totals of eigh inches (20 centimetres).

The Dominican Republic and the Bahamas could see four to eight inches (10 to 20 centimetres) of rain while Cuba could see two to four inches (five to 10 centimetres), with isolated maximum totals of six inches (15 centimetres).

Isaias broke the record as the earliest ninth Atlantic named storm, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was Irene on August 7, 2005, Klotzbach tweeted.

So far this year, Cristobal, Danielle, Edouard, Fay, Gert and Hanna have also set records for being the earliest named Atlantic storm for their alphabetic order.

Main photo: Storm Isaias

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