SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Tropical Storm Gabrielle lashed the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico with heavy rains early Thursday as it spun toward the Dominican Republic.
The storm was located about 65 miles (105 kilometers) west-southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico's second largest city, and was moving northwest near 8 mph (13 kph) with winds of up to 40 mph (65 kph). It is expected to strengthen slightly in the next two days.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla activated the National Guard, canceled classes at all public schools and closed central government agencies as a precaution.
While rains seemed to diminish by midmorning on Thursday, they were expected to intensify again and last through Friday, according to state meteorologist Ernesto Morales.
"We should not lower our guard," he said. "The storm is very dangerous. There's a very high possibility of flooding."
Downed trees were reported in the central town of Ciales and small landslides in the central mountain town of Utuado, with crews working to clear roads.
Several residents in the northern municipality of Bayamon were relocated because a nearby mountain had already experienced landslides in recent weeks amid persistent wet weather.
The storm was expected to drop up to 12 inches (31 centimeters) of rain in central Puerto Rico, and up to 6 inches (15 centimeters) elsewhere in Puerto Rico as well as in the U.S. Virgin Islands and eastern portions of the Dominican Republic. Officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands closed all schools in St. Croix.
Miguel Rios, director of Puerto Rico's emergency management agency, said the tropical storm was interacting with a cluster of storms hovering above Puerto Rico's northeast coast.
"In the next 36 hours, we can experience heavy rains at any moment," he said. "We must remain on alert."
Some 14 inches (36 centimeters) drenched the capital of San Juan in July, making it the wettest July ever recorded for Puerto Rico.
The National Hurricane Center in Miami has issued tropical storm warnings for Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Engano to Cabo Frances Viejo.