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Hurricane Dorian turns away from Puerto Rico but strikes Virgin Islands

Hurricane Dorian may be sparing Puerto Rico its very worst, but the territory’s residents are still apprehensive about its "shaky" electrical grid and smaller, more vulnerable islands. The U.S. Virgin Islands, meanwhile, are taking a direct hit from Dorian. Judy Woodruff talks to Danica Coto of the Associated Press about a sense of relief in Puerto Rico and what the latest forecasts show.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Hurricane Dorian may be sparing Puerto Rico's main island from its very worst, but the Virgin Islands are taking a direct hit today. And, in Puerto Rico, many are watching to see how well the island's electrical grid holds up after an overhaul.

    All of those islands suffered massive damage during the hurricanes of 2017.

    Danica Coto has reported on the preparations and aftermaths of prior hurricanes. She covers the Caribbean for the Associated Press. And she joins us again this evening by Skype.

    Danica, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

    So, tell us, what is the very latest you know on how this storm hit, how it affected the Virgin Islands?

  • Danica Coto:

    Well, the brunt of the storm hit mostly St. Thomas, which experienced very heavy rains. We're still trying to get ahold of officials there.

    I spoke with people on the BVI, which lies just east or about northeast of St. Thomas, and they reported flooding, but no major damage. And in Puerto Rico, there was a lot of joy — or reserved joy at least — on the main island, given that Dorian changed its path overnight from affecting southwest — the southwest part of Puerto Rico to just glancing the northeast part.

    Tonight, there is still tropical-force-storm winds expected for the northeast part of the island, but the storm is making its way out of the Caribbean.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I know, when I talked to you last night, Puerto Rico was bracing for this storm, and it had to be an enormous relief.

  • Danica Coto:

    It is a huge relief for many on the big island.

    Many people went to bed worried about whether they were going to have power in the morning, whether they would have enough supplies, food, water. But when they woke up and they saw that most of the storm was going to cover the northeast part, and then throughout the day, it kept moving further and further east — the concern right now is for the tiny Puerto Rican islands Culebra and Vieques.

    They lie just east of the main island of Puerto Rico and it's a very popular tourist destination. I spoke to one of the mayors there. And he said that, partly, he's relieved because there are no rivers on these islands. So they don't expect too much flooding and there's not really mountains, so there's no risk of landslides.

    But, even then, power outages to remain a risk.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, as we were mentioning, of course, and as you know so well, both — all of these islands took a massive hit in 2017 from the big storms, both Maria.

    And they — and these islands, it has taken them a long time to recover. How has that affected their ability to prepare for this year's storm?

  • Danica Coto:

    Well, if you speak with government officials in Puerto Rico, they say that they are prepared, that they have learned their lesson.

    But there is still about 30,000 blue tarps that serve as roofs throughout the island. In addition, the electrical grid remains very shaky. There's still power outages. Even with the minor rain that we experienced today, there were some power outages ranging from anywhere from 100 customers to a couple thousand being without power, albeit briefly.

    But many of these islands are still struggling to recover, especially the smaller ones, BVI, USVI. USVI was affected by both Hurricane Irma and Maria, which hit in September 2017.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And right now, what we are told, Danica, is that this storm is headed to the East Coast of Florida, the mainland U.S. How much do we know from the forecasts at this point about that?

  • Danica Coto:

    It is a bit too early to say.

    The forecasters at the National Hurricane Center say that people should be prepared, should expect a large storm along the southeast coast. And they do say that they would have a better idea once the storm gets stronger, you know, once it has a more clearly defined center.

    Forecasters say that the forecast wouldn't change that much, as opposed to Dorian, when it was still a tropical storm. When it is fully organized, you know, it is very hard to say where exactly it will go. And as we saw, the path changed several times.

    So, once it gets stronger, forecasters believe that it will be easier to predict where exactly it will land and sort of the future path it will take in these coming days.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    A Category 1 at this point, and some — I guess some of the forecasters saying it could grow possibly to a Category 3.

    Danica Coto, thank you very much. We appreciate your talking to us for the second night in a row. We appreciate it.

  • Danica Coto:

    Thank you very much for having me.

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