MEXICOCITY (Reuters) – Puerto Rico braced on Wednesday for the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian, one of the island’s first major tests since devastating hurricanes struck in 2017.
Puerto Rico is still struggling to recover from those back-to-back hurricanes that killed about 3,000 people just months after the territory filed for bankruptcy to restructure $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.
Having been criticized over the response to the 2017 storms, the White House said in a statement that President Donald Trump had approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico late on Tuesday, allowing for the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in coordination with ongoing disaster preparedness efforts.
“We are better prepared than when Hurricane Maria attacked our island,” Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said during a televised news conference.
Vazquez, who took office this month after political turmoil led to the resignation of his predecessor, said preparations for the storm were more than 90% complete, culminating with the opening of emergency shelters.
Infrastructure ranging from electric power lines to telecommunications and banking networks were in better shape than they had been in 2017, she added.
Dorian, which passed over Barbados on Tuesday, is expected to move near or over Puerto Rico on Wednesday before approaching the island of Hispaniola, which is shared between the Dominican Republic and Haiti, according to the Miami-based National Hurricane Center.
The Dominican Republic also ramped up storm preparations on Tuesday. Juan Manuel Mendez, director of the emergency operations centre, said authorities have identified 3,000 buildings that can be converted into shelters, with capacity for up to 800,000 people.
In Puerto Rico, public schools will be closed on Wednesday and public workers have been instructed to stay home, Vazquez said.
Royal Caribbean’s cruise liner “Allure of the Sea” cancelled a scheduled visit to the island on Thursday, and Carnival Cruise Line also adjusted its itineraries, Vazquez said.
Carnival Cruise Line confirmed the changes. Royal Caribbean did not immediately respond.
By Tuesday evening, the storm was located about 275 miles (440 km) southeast of Ponce, Puerto Rico, carrying maximum sustained winds of 50 miles per hour, the NHC said.
Dorian is expected to dump 3 to 5 inches (8-13 cm) of rain on Florida when it reaches the state in the southeast United States, the NHC said.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; additional reporting by Ezequiel Abiu Lopez and Alex Dobuzinskis; writing by Julia Love)