Puerto Rico Braces for Flooding, Landslides From Tropical Storm

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Forecasters said Tropical Storm Karen would unleash heavy rains across the northeastern Caribbean on Tuesday that could cause flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico and nearby islands. And as if that weren’t enough, a 6.0-magnitude earthquake rattled the island late Monday.

As the tropical storm approached, Puerto Ricans were recovering from the subsea earthquake at a shallow depth of 6 miles. Three aftershocks, of magnitude 4.7 and 4.6, followed within less than an hour.

No damage was reported, and communications after the quake were swift because authorities were already on duty for Karen, said Kiara Hernández, spokeswoman for Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency.

Schools and government offices were already ordered closed in Puerto Rico as well as in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, with officials warning people to stay indoors.

“We’ve had a number of these events now, and I know it’s like the little boy who cried wolf, but I’m urging the public to remain ever vigilant,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said.

Karen regained tropical storm strength Tuesday morning after having been a tropical depression. Its maximum sustained winds increased to near 40 mph, with additional strengthening expected. The storm was centered about 110 miles south of San Juan and moving north at nearly 7 mph.

It was expected to keep heading north after passing over Puerto Rico and stay well east of the Bahamas, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, and forecasters said certain areas could experience stronger winds.

Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez activated the National Guard on Monday and urged people in flood-prone areas to seek shelter.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm two years ago and is estimated to have caused more than $100 billion in damage. More than 25,000 homes still have blue tarps for roofs and the electric grid remains unstable.

“It’s a reality that we might have power outages,” Vázquez said.

Roberto Garcia, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s San Juan office, said 2 to 4 inches of rain was expected, with up to 8 inches in isolated areas, by the time the storm passes on Tuesday. He said some towns in the eastern part of Puerto Rico would likely be hit with moderate to serious flooding, especially those near mountains.

Farther north, Tropical Storm Jerry was moving northward and was projected to pass near Bermuda by Wednesday morning. It was about 275 miles southwest of Bermuda with sustained winds of 60 mph.

Meanwhile, Tropical Storm Lorenzo formed over the far eastern Atlantic and was projected to become a major hurricane by the end of the week, while curving out over open sea away from land. It was centered about 310 miles southwest of the southernmost Cape Verde Islands and had maximum sustained winds of 65 mph. It was heading west-northwest at 16 mph.

The last strong earthquake to shake Puerto Rico in recent years occurred in January 2014, when a magnitude-6.4 tremor struck after midnight just north of the island’s north coast at a depth of 17 miles. Authorities reported broken windows, a busted water line and cracked floors and walls, along with some power outages. Some 70 aftershocks were reported, with at least three of a magnitude 3.5 or greater.

The most damaging earthquake to hit Puerto Rico in recent history occurred in October 1918, when a magnitude-7.3 quake struck near the island’s northwest coast, causing a tsunami and killing 116 people.

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