By Danica Coto
SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO: Tropical Storm Gabrielle was downgraded to a depression Thursday as it lashed the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico with heavy rains and swirled toward the Dominican Republic.
The storm was expected to weaken further in the next two days as it passes over or near the eastern Dominican Republic.
Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla had activated the National Guard, canceled classes at all public schools and closed central government agencies as a precaution.
Heavy rains were still expected across Puerto Rico, state meteorologist Ernesto Morales said.
“We should not lower our guard,” he said. “The storm is very dangerous. There’s a very high possibility of flooding.”
Falling trees brought down a telephone post in the central town of Ciales, while officials said crews were working to clear roads after small landslides in the central mountain town of Utuado and the southeastern town of Yabucoa. Minor flooding was reported in the Caribbean island’s southeast.
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 8 inches of rain in central Puerto Rico, and up to 4 inches 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 storm was interacting with a cluster of weather systems hovering above Puerto Rico’s northeastern coast.
“In the next 36 hours, we can experience heavy rains at any moment,” he said. “We must remain on alert.”
Some 14 inches drenched the capital of San Juan in July, making it the wettest July ever recorded for Puerto Rico.