Isaac lashes Caribbean, new storm also forms

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands braced for torrential rains on Thursday as Tropical Storm Isaac whipped up waves as high as 10 feet in the Caribbean and threatened to become a hurricane that could take a shot at Florida just as Republicans gather for their national convention.

Some flooding was reported in eastern and southern regions of Puerto Rico as the storm approached.

U.S. forecasters said Isaac will likely turn into a Category 1 hurricane by Friday as it nears the Dominican Republic and Haiti. It was expected to weaken a little while heading over their island and the eastern two-thirds of Cuba.

The storm was projected to head toward Florida as a hurricane by Monday, but the U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said some forecast models show it could go further west into the Gulf of Mexico, so “significant uncertainty remains about the threat Isaac poses to Florida.”

Isaac was centered 165 miles south of Puerto Rico early Thursday afternoon, with maximum sustained winds of 40 mph. It was moving west at 15 mph, according to the Hurricane Center.

Puerto Rico opened 428 shelters, and 50 people had taken refuge, said Gov. Luis Fortuno. Some 7,800 people were without power and more than 3,000 without water.

Schools and government offices remained closed Thursday on the U.S. territory, but the governor said it was safe for people to go to work if they needed to. However, he warned everyone to stay away from beaches and swollen rivers.

While Isaac itself has caused no reported injuries or deaths, police in Puerto Rico say a 75-year-old woman died near the capital of San Juan on Wednesday when she fell off a balcony while filling a drum with water in preparation for the storm.

Puerto Rico’s main international airport remained open, but Cape Air and American Eagle cancelled their flights Thursday, Fortuno said. Ferry service to the tourist islands of Vieques and Culebra also was suspended.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands town of Christiansted, streets lined with historic buildings of Danish architecture, were largely deserted. All but a small handful of businesses and government offices were closed. Hurricane shutters covered the entrances to most buildings and sandbags were stacked in anticipation of potential floods and storm surge.

In St. Croix, the owners of Turtle’s, a seaside restaurant, were baking bread for sandwiches, selling coffee and snacks to the few passersby and fielding calls from people about the weather.

The storm already forced military authorities at the U.S. base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to cancel pretrial hearings for five prisoners charged in the Sept. 11 attacks. They also were evacuating about 200 people, including legal teams and relatives of Sept. 11 victims.

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