Hurricane Dorian caused limited damage in the northern Caribbean as it left the region and gathered strength late Wednesday, setting its sights on the US mainland as it threatened to grow into a Category 3 storm.
Puerto Rico, which had braced for the worst, seemed to be spared any heavy wind and rain, a huge relief to many on an island where blue tarps still cover some 30,000 homes nearly two years after Hurricane Maria. The island’s 3.2 million inhabitants also depend on an unstable power grid that remains prone to outages since it was destroyed by Maria.
Power outages and flooding were reported across the US Virgin Islands, the British Virgin Islands and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra after Dorian hit St Thomas as a Category 1 storm.
“We’re happy because there are no damages to report,” Culebra’s mayor, William Solis, told the Associated Press, noting that only one community lost power.
Donald Trump began the day by insulting and taunting Puerto Rico and its residents, who are US citizens, on Twitter. “Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth,” the president wrote in part. “Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt. And by the way, I’m the best thing that’s ever happened to Puerto Rico!”
Florida officials said Wednesday that they are preparing for the hurricane to make landfall somewhere along the state’s eastern shore. Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, declared a state of emergency and urged residents to take precautions in anticipation of a possible Labor Day strike.
Dennis Feltgen, a Hurricane Center meteorologist in Miami, said Dorian may grow in size and could land anywhere from south Florida to South Carolina on Sunday or Monday. “This will be a large storm approaching the south-east,” he said.
County governments along Florida’s east-central coast are distributing sandbags and many residents are rushing to warehouse retailers to load up on water, canned food and emergency supplies.
Trump declared an emergency on Tuesday night and ordered federal assistance for local authorities in Puerto Rico. But in a tweet Wednesday morning, Trump, a climate crisis denier, seemed to complain about Puerto Rico’s exposure to storms, and escalated a long-running feud with Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s capital.
On Tuesday night, Cruz said that Trump should “get out of the way”.
“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,” Cruz said on CNN. “So get out of the way, President Trump.”
Cruz was referring to the death toll from Hurricane Maria, which hit Puerto Rico in September 2017. An official report criticized the Trump administration’s slow response to the devastation from the storm, which destroyed the island’s power grid and decimated its agriculture and tourism industries.
On Tuesday morning, Trump had tweeted about Dorian, and seemed to complain about the cost of hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, which have fallen far short of restoring the island.
“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico,” Trump wrote. “Will it ever end? Congress approved 92 Billion Dollars for Puerto Rico last year, an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere’.”
Trump’s tweet contained multiple falsehoods. While Congress has allocated $42.5bn for disaster relief for Puerto Rico, the island had received less than $14bn through May, according to federal data. And in any case Trump’s headline amount of $92bn would not qualify the Maria relief package as “an all-time record” for the costliest tropical cyclones, according to the federal government’s own figures. Spending on recovery for Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas and Louisiana in the same storm season as Maria, has so far cost $125bn.
Since Maria, Puerto Rico has struggled with political turbulence leading to the recent departure of the governor, Ricardo Rosselló. Earlier this month, the territory’s supreme court overturned the swearing-in of Rosselló’s successor, Pedro Pierluisi, and the former justice secretary, Wanda Vázquez, became governor.