SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Tropical Storm Fred made landfall in the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, with forecasters warning that heavy rains could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides there and in the neighboring country of Haiti.
After a quiet month of no named storms in the region, Fred became the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it moved past the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on a forecast track that would carry it toward Florida over the weekend.
Government crews with megaphones walked through impoverished neighborhoods in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo ahead of the storm urging those in low-lying areas to evacuate. Hours later, the government reported flooding in one courthouse.
Tropical storm warnings were discontinued in the U.S. territories after pelting the islands with rain, leaving some 13,000 customers without power in Puerto Rico.
Fred was centered 75 miles west-northwest of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, on Wednesday morning and moving west-northwest at 16 mph, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 40 mph.
The Dominican Republic, Haiti and central and eastern Cuba could get hit Wednesday, and people in Florida were urged to monitor updates. Forecasters said the center of Fred was expected to move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, and move north of the northern coast of central Cuba on Friday.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi closed government agencies on Tuesday at noon, and officials noted some gas stations had shut down after running out of fuel.
More than a month had passed since the last Atlantic storm, Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the start of the peak of hurricane season.
The hurricane center issued warnings for Dominican Republic on the south coast from Punta Palenque eastward and on the north coast from the Dominican Republic/Haiti border eastward. A watch was in effect for Haiti from the northern border with the Dominican Republic to Gonaives and for the Cuban provinces of Ciego de Avila, Camaguey, Las Tunas, Holguin, Granma, Santiago and Guantanamo. Also included in the watch was the Turks and Caicos Islands and southeastern Bahamas.
The storm was expected to produce rainfall of 2 to 4 inches over Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic with up to 6 inches in some areas.