Hurricane Dorian Strengthens As It Gets Closer To Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands

Aug 28, 2019
Originally published on August 28, 2019 8:00 pm
Copyright 2019 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

In the Caribbean, Tropical Storm Dorian is now Hurricane Dorian. The storm is moving north into the Atlantic after turning away from Puerto Rico and passing over the U.S. Virgin Islands. Forecasters say the storm is continuing to strengthen and could affect Florida as early as this weekend. To give us the latest, we're joined now by NPR's Adrian Florido. He's in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan.

Hey, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I know that storm conditions are still changing pretty rapidly, but can you give us an idea of the storm's path right now?

FLORIDO: Yeah. Well, I mean, as you said, Dorian was moving west across the Caribbean toward Puerto Rico. But as of this evening, Puerto Rico's main island has been spared a direct hit. The storm did pass over two small island municipalities off of Puerto Rico's eastern coast, Vieques and Culebra, and also caused widespread power outages in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Just a little while ago, the National Weather Service lifted its hurricane and tropical storm warnings for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. But as you mentioned, forecasters now say that Dorian is heading toward Florida and could be a dangerous Category 3 hurricane affecting that state by this weekend.

CHANG: We said that you're in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. Can you just give us an idea of how things are looking there?

FLORIDO: It's cloudy, a little rainy but mostly calm at this point. The streets are empty because, you know, schools and government offices closed, and most businesses closed today too. Some of the only people out on the streets are security guards. The plan was to have schools and government offices closed through tomorrow, but the governor has now reversed that decision because things seem to have been - are calm now and there's no longer a big risk here in Puerto Rico.

CHANG: OK. So it sounds like Puerto Rico might have avoided the worst with this storm. But, you know, there are still two months left in the Atlantic hurricane season. It's been almost two years since Hurricane Maria. How prepared is Puerto Rico to handle another big storm, should one come?

FLORIDO: Well, the government says that it is ready. Governor Wanda Vázquez and top emergency officials have been holding regular press conferences over the last several days, talking about all the ways that they have prepared based on lessons that they'd learned after the government's bungled response to Hurricane Maria two years ago. So she says they've done things like stock up on thousands of utility poles and electric generators and made sure that hospitals' emergency plans are in place, that they've installed radio communication systems and trained first responders - all sorts of things that were not in place before Hurricane Maria. The governor and the heads of public security here are trying to reassure people that they are ready. But, you know, because there hasn't been a major storm here since Hurricane Maria, people are kind of skeptical. And I'm hearing a lot of doubts from people on the streets and other folks I've spoken to about whether the government really is prepared because there hasn't really been a test yet.

CHANG: Right. How about that - is there any of that skepticism towards the federal government? - because I know there was a lot of unhappiness in Puerto Rico about how the federal government responded after Hurricane Maria.

FLORIDO: There is a lot of skepticism here. And that's also, in part, because FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, made many errors in its response to Hurricane Maria two years ago. This time around, FEMA said that it was also better prepared. It sent several hundred employees to Puerto Rico in the last couple of days to be in place before Dorian arrived. At the same time, President Donald Trump has been tweeting. He's been criticizing Puerto Rico's government, accusing officials here of being corrupt. And, you know, last month, he did - his administration did put some restrictions on disaster preparedness funding, so there are questions about how fully committed the federal government would be should another storm come.

CHANG: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Thanks, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Ailsa. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.