SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Tropical Storm Isaias battered Puerto Rico on Thursday as it continued on a forecast track toward the U.S. East Coast, unleashing small landslides and causing widespread flooding and power outages on an island still recovering from previous hurricanes and earthquakes.
The storm's maximum sustained winds of 60 mph (95 kph) also toppled trees and some telephone and electrical cables across the island.
Especially hard hit was Puerto Rico's southern region, which is still being shaken by daily tremors. Santos Seda, mayor of the southwest town of Guánica, told The Associated Press that he has received reports of downed trees and inundated neighborhoods where earthquake-damaged homes still stand.
“The emotional state of people is deteriorating more every day,” he said, adding that crews will fan out to assess damage once the weather clears.
Isaias was centered about 165 miles (265 kilometers) southeast of Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic late Thursday morning, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 20 mph (31 kph), and its center was expected to move over Hispaniola — the island shared by Haiti and the Dominican Republic — later on Thursday and near the southeastern Bahamas by early Friday.
Isaias was already toppling trees in the Dominican Republic as government workers in some impoverished neighborhoods used loudspeakera to urge people to evacuate ahead of the worst of the storm. Police also arrested a handful of surfers in the capital of Santo Domingo accused of violating government storm warnings.
Meanwhile, Isaias knocked out power to more than 400,000 clients across Puerto Rico and left some 150,000 customers without water, according to government officials. Meanwhile, crews opened the gates of one dam that last month had such a low water level it led officials to cut service every other day for some 140,000 customers. Outages also were reported in the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands.
Minor damage was reported elsewhere across Puerto Rico, where tens of thousands of people still use tarps as roofs over homes damaged by Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
José Pagán, a 22-year-old who lives in the eastern mountain town of Juncos, said his power went out before dawn.
“I didn't think it was going to be this strong,” he said of the storm, adding that his home is slightly flooded. “It's a rather difficult experience because it reminds us of Maria.”
The hurricane center said Isaias, for now, is not expected to become a hurricane before reaching the U.S. mainland.
“Isaias is sending some mixed signals,” the forecast discussion stated. “The intensity forecast remains challenging."
Tropical storm warnings were issued for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos Islands and portions of the Dominican Republic, Haiti and the Bahamas.
Isaias was expected to produce 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain across Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and northern Haiti, with isolated maximum totals of 10 inches (25 centimeters).
The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands could see 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 centimeters) of rain while Cuba could see 1 to 2 inches (3 to 5 centimeters), with isolated maximum totals of 4 inches (10 centimeters).
Isaias is the earliest ninth Atlantic named storm to form, according to Colorado State University hurricane researcher Phil Klotzbach. The previous record was Irene on August 7, 2005, Klotzbach tweeted.
So far this year, Cristobal, Danielle, Edouard, Fay, Gert and Hanna have also been the earliest named Atlantic storms for their alphabetic order.