Puerto Rico Prepares for Hurricane Dorian

Sector San Juan coastguardsmen prepare sandbags, August 28 (USCG)

By The Maritime Executive 08-28-2019 03:45:13

The forecast trajectory of Hurricane Dorian has altered course to move past the eastern coast of Puerto Rico, missing the Dominican Republic and likely avoiding landfall on Puerto Rico itself. While the storm's winds strengthened to category 1 hurricane status on Wednesday afternoon, the primary impact in Puerto Rico is expected to be heavy rainfall rather than wind damage. 

The U.S. Coast Guard Station San Juan has begun hardening its base for the storm's arrival so that its equipment is available for post-storm response. Servicemembers have removed the station's response boat from the water and are shuttering up the base's windows, pulling aircraft and vehicles into hangars, removing satellite antennas and sandbagging doors.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) announced Tuesday that it has more emergency supplies stockpiled on Puerto Rico than it did in 2017, when Hurricane Maria devastated the island's infrastructure and electrical grid. In that response, relief prepositioning warehouses in Puerto Rico had few supplies on hand when the storm arrived, as the contents had been used for storm preparedness and relief in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

FEMA's statement came alongside news that the Trump administration is transferring about $270 million in unspent funds from the Department of Homeland Security's base Disaster Relief Fund for use in migrant detention and processing at the southern border. According to DHS, $116 million of the disaster relief funding will be spent on additional detention facilities and transportation for adult migrants. $155 million more will be spent on additional temporary hearing facilities to process migrants with asylum claims. 

"We are tracking closely tropical storm Dorian as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico. FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You - Not like last time [Hurricane Maria]," President Donald Trump said in a Twitter post Wednesday morning. FEMA's response in 2017 was criticized by the president's political opponents; the agency's after-action report for Hurricane Maria acknowledged several areas for improvement, including insufficient prepositioned supplies, limited communications equipment, an understaffed response force and limited pre-planning to deal with the island's existing infrastructure and governance challenges.

Hurricane Dorian is forecast to head next to Florida, and may strengthen to a major category 3 storm with 100 knot winds by the time it arrives. Five-day forecast tracks indicate that it could approach the middle of Florida's east coast, then turn and parallel the coastline northwards - but the forecast cone of uncertainty extends to cover the entirety of the Florida and Georgia Atlantic coastlines by the projected time of arrival next Monday. 

Coast Guard sets port advisory for Port Canaveral

On Wednesday afternoon, the Coast Guard Captain of the Port set port condition Whiskey for Port Canaveral in expectation that gale force winds from Hurricane Dorian may arrive within 72 hours. The port is currently open to all commercial traffic, and all transfer operations may continue, the USCG said. 

There are no safe havens from storm conditions in Port Canaveral, the COTP warned, and the Coast Guard seeks to minimize the inventory of vessels in port during heavy weather. All ocean-going commercial vessels and ocean-going barges greater than 500 gross tons are advised to make plans to depart.