As Tropical Storm Dorian loomed to its southeast Tuesday, Puerto Rico braced for the possibility that it would sideswipe the island, with authorities declaring an emergency, closing schools early and preparing emergency shelter for tens of thousands of people.

Although the latest forecasts suggested that Puerto Rico might be spared a direct hit, the island’s leaders sought to assure its 3.2 million people that they would not be caught underestimating Dorian, especially after the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017.

“I want everyone to feel calm,” Gov. Wanda Vázquez said as she declared a state of emergency Monday evening. “Agency heads have prepared for the past two years. The experience of Maria has been a great lesson for everyone.”

Dorian is expected to strengthen over the warm waters of the Caribbean and to brush the southwest part of Puerto Rico on Wednesday night, before making landfall on the eastern end of the Dominican Republic, according to forecasters at the National Hurricane Center. Even if its strongest winds bypass Puerto Rico, the storm could soak parts of the island with 6 inches of rain.

On Tuesday morning, the storm system was dumping heavy rain on the Windward Islands of the eastern Caribbean, with maximum sustained winds of about 50 mph. The islands include Martinique, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Overnight in Barbados, the storm knocked out power in many towns in the island’s north. But officials said public transportation would be back to normal service and businesses would reopen Tuesday.

The storm was moving west-northwest at about 13 mph, on a path that could eventually bring high winds and rainfall to the Bahamas later this week. And while Dorian’s trajectory is difficult to predict days in advance, forecasters say tropical storm conditions are possible in Florida, beginning Saturday.


In Puerto Rico, public schools were told to close at 1 p.m. Tuesday. Some 360 shelters would open around the island to house up to 49,000 people, Vázquez’s administration said Monday.

She also ordered a price freeze in an effort to prevent price gouging for fuel and other supplies, and announced a list of new disaster response equipment, including satellite telephones for the public power utility. Vázquez also said aid contracts had been signed in case there were widespread power disruptions like the ones that kept the entire island in the dark after Hurricane Maria, then a Category 4 storm, struck in 2017.

The storm is an early challenge for Vázquez, the former justice secretary who assumed the governorship three weeks ago after a popular uprising ousted Ricardo A. Rosselló, the governor during the devastating 2017 hurricane season. The protests began as a demonstration against the weak economy, graft scandals and a callous response to Hurricane Maria. It ended up toppling the government in two weeks.

But money for the preparations remains an issue. The Trump administration said this month that it would delay about $9 billion in disaster prevention funds intended for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, citing concerns over fiscal management.

President Donald Trump repeated Tuesday, incorrectly, that Congress had approved more than $90 billion for Puerto Rico last year.

While $91 billion is the Office of Management and Budget’s estimate of how much the island could receive over the next two decades, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other agencies had distributed $11.2 billion in aid to Puerto Rico as of April.

In the Dominican Republic, where Dorian could strike as a Category 1 hurricane, the government said it had sent alerts to six of its 32 provinces and was preparing more than 3,000 shelters that could house 800,000 people.