Puerto Rico braces for heavy wind, rain as Beryl approaches

Puerto Rico could be hit with winds of up to 40 mph (64 kph) and heavy flooding as Hurricane Beryl approaches a region still trying to recover from last year's storms, forecasters said Friday.

The Category 1 storm is expected to dissipate before reaching the eastern Caribbean but still forecast to dump heavy rain across islands including Dominica and Puerto Rico starting this weekend.

"People have to remain alert," Gabriel Lojero, a forecaster for the National Weather Service in San Juan, told The Associated Press. "The forecast could change for the better or worse."

Beryl is currently expected to pass near Dominica and the French Caribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique early Monday as a tropical wave and then continue south of Puerto Rico. Dominica was hit by Hurricane Maria last year as a Category 5 storm and hasn't fully recovered. Neither has Puerto Rico, where hundreds are still living under makeshift roofs and more than 1,000 customers remain without power more than nine months after the storm.

Many worry Beryl will cause power outages across Puerto Rico given the fragility of the U.S. territory's electrical grid after Maria destroyed up to 75 percent of its distribution lines. Lojero also warned that the storm is expected to dump up to four inches (10 centimeters) of rain and could unleash landslides.

"Maria caused a lot of changes in vegetation," Lojero said. "The island is vulnerable."

Officials said they will open 424 shelters across Puerto Rico as a preventive measure and urged people to monitor the storm's progress.

Beryl is the first hurricane of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season. It was located 1,140 miles (1,830 kilometers) east-southeast of the Lesser Antilles on Friday morning. It had maximum sustained winds of 75 mph (120 kph) and was moving west at 14 mph (22 kph).