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Weather & Natural Disasters

Hurricane Dorian strengthens to Category 1 storm as it slams through Virgin Islands, threatens Florida

Key Points
  • Dorian has become a Category 1 hurricane near St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands as it moves toward Puerto Rico, threatening heavy flooding and landslides in the U.S territory still recovering from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.
  • It's expected to strengthen into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane as it nears the U.S. mainland.
  • Puerto Rico is under a state of emergency ordered by President Donald Trump and the country's new governor, though the main part of the hurricane is no longer expected to hit Puerto Rico's biggest island.
  • Forecasters warned on Wednesday that heavy rain could cause life-threatening flooding, landslides and power outages.
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Tropical Storm Dorian heads toward Puerto Rico, may hit Florida next

Dorian has become a Category 1 hurricane near St. Thomas in the United States Virgin Islands as it moves toward Puerto Rico, threatening heavy flooding and landslides in the U.S territory still recovering from Hurricane Maria nearly two years ago.

It's expected to strengthen into a dangerous Category 3 hurricane as it nears the U.S. mainland, forecasts show.

Puerto Rico is under a state of emergency ordered by President Donald Trump and the country's new governor, though the main part of the hurricane is no longer expected to hit Puerto Rico's biggest island. Forecasters warned on Wednesday that heavy rain could cause life-threatening flooding, landslides and power outages.

Forecasters said Dorian will pass over Puerto Rico and the U.S. and British Virgin Islands later on Wednesday and move toward the Bahamas on Friday. It could hit Florida's coast as a hurricane late Sunday or early Monday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

"The risk of dangerous storm surge and hurricane-force winds is increasing in the central and northwestern Bahamas and along the Florida east coast, although it is too soon to determine where these hazards will occur," forecasters said in an advisory on Wednesday. "Residents in these areas should ensure that they have their hurricane plan in place and not focus on the exact forecast track of Dorian's center."

As it announced an increased threat of hurricane conditions to Florida, the center also said its forecasts are on the "lower end of the guidance envelope," as more serious warnings are expected as the storm continues to grow.

Authorities in Puerto Rico closed schools early Tuesday and prepared emergency shelters for tens of thousands of people. They said they have enough fuel and emergency supplies to respond to the storm, despite widespread concern about power outages, like those caused by Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The Trump administration on Tuesday announced an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, allowing federal aid to supplement local response efforts to the storm.

Trump tweeted on Wednesday that the administration is closely tracking Dorian, and called San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz "incompetent."

"We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You - Not like last time. That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!" Trump wrote.

In a separate tweet later in the day, Trump wrote that Puerto Rico "is one of the most corrupt places on earth."

The mayor was critical of Trump yesterday, saying on CNN, "His behavior, his lack of understanding – it is ludicrous."

"Three-thousand Puerto Ricans did not open their eyes this morning because this racist man did not have it within him to do his job," she said. "So get out of the way President Trump and let the people who can do the job get the job done."

Nearly 3,000 people are estimated to have died from Hurricane Maria or its aftermath, which makes the Category 5 storm one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Trump was criticized for his administration's handling of the response to Maria.

Trump incorrectly said on Tuesday that Congress had approved over $90 billion in disaster relief aid for Puerto Rico last year.

In fact, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies had given out $11.2 billion in aid to the island so far. The Office of Management and Budget has estimated that the island could receive $91 billion in aid over the next 20 years.

The Trump administration also said this month that it would delay about $9 million in disaster prevention funds intended for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands due to fiscal management concerns.