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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Mayors urge governor to meet with them in the face of Tropical Storm Fiona

Tropical Storm Fiona was on track to reach Puerto Rico on Saturday.

By The Star Staff

Rep. Juan José Santiago Nieves, chairman of the Municipal Autonomy Committee of the Puerto Rico House of Representatives, urged Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia on Thursday to call an emergency meeting with all the island mayors with representatives of the departments of Public Safety, Housing and Education, to work together on situations that still need to be addressed in the municipalities in the face of Tropical Storm Fiona.

The tropical storm was on track to reach Puerto Rico on Saturday.

“The municipalities have been on the streets for days with their personnel dealing with the situations that have occurred in the past few days due to the rains and floods, and preventively attending to situations in the communities,” said the legislator from House District 28 (Comerío, Naranjito, Corozal and Barranquitas). Meanwhile, more support is needed from the executive branch at the state level so that the municipalities can have the necessary equipment and tools for any emergency.”

Santiago Nieves added that water service should be a priority of attention by the executive branch. “The mayors know the situations that sometimes occur in their communities due to rains and floods,” he said. “The Department of Transportation and Public Works [DTOP by its Spanish acronym] must be very vigilant of our highways in the mountain area since there are still many landslides and areas that represent a danger to our constituents.”

Puerto Rico Mayors Association President Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, meanwhile, expressed several concerns related to the effects of the tropical storm on the island and asked the government to include them directly in the planning processes.

“With soils saturated by recent rains and a fragile energy system, this storm warning should not be taken lightly,” the Villalba mayor said. “The government must be prepared and present its plan for this event in the middle of the peak season. Every municipality is ready and pending for Puerto Rico.”

Hernández Ortiz also noted that the experiences of all the mayors during the passage of previous major storms such as Hurricane Maria have served as a learning experience.

“September is the peak month of the hurricane season; efforts must be directed to attend to emergency issues,” he said. “It is not prudent to divert or minimize any atmospheric warning that may harm us.”

As of press time Thursday, winds of 50 to 60 miles per hour were expected, which would mean interruptions in different island sectors. Hernández Ortiz communicated with LUMA Energy officials in the morning to be available for whatever they may need. According to the National Weather Service, Tropical Storm Fiona was expected to enter the region on Saturday around sunset with winds reaching 60 miles per hour.

At the afternoon interim bulletin, the center of Tropical Storm Fiona was located near latitude 16.5 degrees North, longitude 54.8 degrees West, and was moving westward at about 14 mph. A westward motion with some decrease in forwarding speed was expected through late Saturday, with a possible turn to the west-northwest on Sunday. On the forecast track, the center of Fiona was expected to cross the Leeward Islands Friday night and early Saturday morning and move near the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Saturday night into Sunday.

In related news, the Scuba Dogs Society, the official coordinator in Puerto Rico of the International Coastal Cleanup, announced that due to the effects of the passage of Fiona through Puerto Rico, the event was rescheduled for Saturday, Sept. 24 at the same time, from 8 a.m. to noon.

Anyone who has registered and will be attending the cleanup on the new date need only report to their coast or natural space on Saturday, Sept. 24. Those unable to participate in the cleanup on the new date should inform their coastal captain by email as soon as possible.

Flood watch across the island

The National Weather Service in San Juan issued a flood watch for Puerto Rico associated with the passage of Fiona.

Excessive runoff may result in flooding rivers, creeks, streams, and other low-lying and flood-prone locations, as well as landslides and rock slides in areas of steep terrain.

Showers and thunderstorms associated with Fiona, forecast to reach Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands on Friday night, were expected to continue to affect the local islands through Monday, increasing the risk of flooding throughout most of the forecast area. Soils are already saturated across areas of higher ground, and, as a result, landslides and rockslides are also possible.

The period of greatest rainfall activity is expected to be Saturday through Sunday. The areas most likely to receive the most significant rainfall accumulation are portions of eastern Puerto Rico, where there is a chance for rainfall totals to reach 6 to 8 inches, with locally higher amounts around 10 inches. Across southern Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the potential exists for rain totals to reach 4 to 6 inches. Elsewhere, expect rain totals to range between 2 and 4 inches.

“We are not looking at rapid intensification at this point, just maybe a slow and steady increase in intensity as it marches toward the Leeward and Windward Islands,” Jamie Rhome, the acting director of the Hurricane Center in Miami, said Thursday.

He added that the high mountains of Hispaniola “could play a big part in where Fiona goes.”

Officials in St. Maarten and St. Kitts and Nevis shared a cautionary message for residents Thursday, according to The New York Times.

The Atlantic hurricane season, which runs from June through November, had a relatively quiet start, with only three named storms before September. There were no named storms in the Atlantic during August, the first time since 1997. But storm activity picked up in early September, with Danielle and Earl, which eventually became hurricanes, forming within a day.

In early August, scientists at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued an updated forecast for the rest of the season, which still called for an above-normal level of activity. They predicted the season could see 14 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 turning into hurricanes that sustained winds of at least 74 mph. Three to five of those could strengthen into what the agency calls significant hurricanes — Category 3 or stronger — with winds of at least 111 mph.

Last year, there were 21 named storms, after a record-breaking 30 in 2020.

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