Dorian strengthened into a hurricane Wednesday afternoon as it lashed the British and US Virgin Islands. As the storm approaches eastern Puerto Rico, it's threatening floods and landslides in some areas that were hard hit two years ago by Hurricane Maria.
Dorian's wind speeds won't approach those of Maria, the Category 4 storm that left more than 2,900 people dead in 2017. But they could be enough to strain Puerto Rican power infrastructure that's still in tenuous condition, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said.
The storm's center was near the island of St. Thomas around 2 p.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds of around 75 mph, just above minimum hurricane strength, the National Hurricane Center said.
The hurricane has already claimed its first indirect victim. An 80-year-old man fell from the roof of his house in Bayamon, Puerto Rico, as he was cleaning a drain while preparing for the storm, Puerto Rico Public safety Secretary Elmer Roman said at a briefing Wednesday.
Dorian's center may avoid Puerto Rico and slide just to its east late Wednesday afternoon, Myers said. But it still could dump 4 to 10 inches of rain in a matter of hours in parts of that island and the British and US Virgin Islands.
The storm's projected path has shifted significantly over the past day. Once projected to swing south of Puerto Rico and rumble over the Dominican Republic, it's now forecast that the center will miss Hispaniola altogether, though the Dominican Republic still could get tropical-storm rain and winds.
"It has danced a little bit north," CNN meteorologist Dave Hennen said of the storm's path. "The worst of the wind and the rain, too, is probably going to be in the Virgin Islands."
Later this week, Dorian may strengthen over Atlantic waters and approach Florida or other parts of the southeastern US coast over the Labor Day weekend as a Category 3 hurricane, the hurricane center forecast late Wednesday morning. It's still far too early to know exactly where or when the storm, considered a major hurricane at that predicted strength, could hit the US mainland.
US Virgin Islands under curfew
On the US Virgin Island of St. Croix, Stacy Mooney was recording the heavy rain outside Wednesday morning and captured a sudden flash of blue-green light in the distance. Power went out for a few minutes afterward, she wrote on Facebook, and she wondered if she had seen electric equipment failing.
"Overall, things are fine," she told CNN. "The winds have been fierce."
The US Virgin Islands will be under curfew from noon Wednesday until 6 a.m. Thursday because of the storm, Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. said.
Puerto Rico prepares for impact
In the city of Ponce on Puerto Rico's southern coast, people still have tarps over their homes owing to damage Maria wrought, Mayor Maria "Mayita" Melendez told CNN. The city was hit with $1 billion in damages from Maria, she estimates.
Dorian's rains easily could worsen a still-fragile reality, Myers said.
"There's already so much damage on the ground from (Maria) that this isn't going to take a lot to make a significant amount of damage, especially flooding," he said.
The tin roof over Lucy Beascochea's home still has holes in it, meaning every time it rains, water leaks in, she told CNN Tuesday. She is nervous about the approaching storm, she said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced on Monday declared a state of emergency for the island and urged people to prepare for the storm.
"For citizens who do not yet have safe roofs, we will have shelters ready," Vázquez said on Twitter.
Schools across Puerto Rico are closed Wednesday.
"Thankfully, I've been preparing since May," said Krystle Rivera, whose family has been stocking up on water, canned food and gas in anticipation of the hurricane season.
By Wednesday morning, about 23 shelters were available across the island, but only about 40 people had arrived to use them, Puerto Rico Emergency and Disaster Management Commissioner Carlos A. Acevedo Caballero said.
People in Florida are starting to get ready for a possible Labor Day strike from Hurricane Dorian, which forecasters say could grow into a Category 3 storm.
Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted Wednesday that: "All Floridians on the East Coast should have 7 days of supplies, prepare their homes & follow the track closely."
County governments along Florida's east-central coast have begun distributing sandbags, while many residents are rushing to warehouse retailers to load up on water, canned food and emergency supplies.
The prospect of Dorian already is dinging the region's tourism. The head of Volusa County's Lodging and Hospitality Association says hotel reservations there went from three-quarter capacity down to half through cancellations.
Disney plans to open its long-anticipated Star Wars Land on Thursday and that had been expected to drive attendance over the three-day weekend. There's no word yet on any possible closure.