SAN JUAN – Tropical Storm Fred swept into the Dominican Republic on Wednesday, then weakened to a tropical depression after nightfall while dumping heavy rains that forecasters warned could cause dangerous flooding and mudslides there and in neighboring Haiti.
Some 300,000 customers were without power in the Dominican Republic and more than a half million were affected by swollen rivers that forced part of the aqueduct system to shut down, government officials reported.
After a quiet month of no named storms in the region, Fred became the sixth of the Atlantic hurricane season late Tuesday as it moved past the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on a forecast track that would carry it toward Florida over the weekend.
Government crews with megaphones walked through impoverished neighborhoods in the Dominican capital of Santo Domingo ahead of the storm urging those in low-lying areas to evacuate. Hours later, the government reported flooding in one courthouse.
Tropical storm warnings were discontinued in the U.S. territories after pelting the islands with rain, leaving some 13,000 customers without power in Puerto Rico.
Fred was centered 65 miles (105 kilometers) south southwest of Great Inagua Island on Thursday morning and moving west-northwest at 16 mph (26 kph), the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. It had maximum sustained winds of 35 mph (55 kph).
Forecasters said Fred would not strengthen much as it moved across the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday, then move along or just north of eastern and central Cuba later in the day and on Friday, and be near the Florida Keys and south Florida on Saturday. A slow strengthening was expected Friday and into the weekend. People in Florida were urged to monitor updates.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi had closed government agencies on Tuesday at noon and officials noted that some gas stations had shut down after running out of fuel.
More than a month had passed since the last Atlantic storm, Hurricane Elsa, but this time of summer usually marks the start of the peak of hurricane season.
The storm was expected to produce rainfall of 3 to 5 inches (7 to 12 centimeters) over the Dominican Republic with up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) in some areas.