Puerto Rico braces for flooding, landslides from TD Karen

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Forecasters yesterday said Tropical Depression Karen would unleash heavy rains across the northeastern Caribbean that could cause flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico and nearby islands.

As the storm approached, Puerto Ricans were trying to compose themselves after being shaken from their beds late Monday by a magnitude-6.0 earthquake that hit in the Atlantic near the island at a shallow depth of six 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 United States (US) 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,” US Virgin Islands Gov Albert Bryan Jr said.

Late Monday, Karen was centred 160 miles south of San Juan and moving north-northwest at 10 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 35 mph.

It is expected to keep heading north after passing over Puerto Rico and stay well east of the Bahamas, the US National Hurricane Centre said.

Forecasters said it was expected to become a tropical storm again, perhaps before reaching Puerto Rico. A tropical storm warning remained in effect for Puerto Rico, Vieques, Culebra and the US 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 USD100 billion in damage. More than 25,000 homes still have blue tarps for roofs and the electric grid remains unstable.

Roberto Garcia, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service’s San Juan office, said two to four inches of rain was expected, with up to eight inches in isolated areas, by the time the storm passed yesterday.