September 22, 2019 / 10:20 PM / 22 days ago

Tropical Storm Karen forms in Caribbean as it takes aim at Puerto Rico

(Reuters) - Tropical Storm Karen took shape near the Windward Islands of the Caribbean on Sunday as it headed for the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico, still struggling to recover from devastating back-to-back hurricanes in 2017.

Karen, packing maximum sustained winds of 40 miles per hour (65 kph), is on track to pass near or over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Tuesday as a tropical storm, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported.

In addition to high winds, forecasts called for up to a half foot (15 cm) of rain in parts of Puerto Rico, and as much as 4 inches (10 cm) elsewhere on that island, with warnings of possible flash floods and mudslides.

Karen, the 11th named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, formed on Sunday afternoon east of the Lesser Antilles, prompting tropical storm warnings for the islands of Grenada and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.

But the storm was turning northward and was expected to move away from the Windward Islands by evening, according to the latest NHC advisory.

A tropical storm watch was posted on Sunday for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and British Virgin Islands. While those islands lie in Karen’s projected path for landfall on Tuesday, little change in the storm’s strength was forecast for the next 48 hours, the NHC said.

Puerto Rico, buffeted by political turmoil and bankruptcy, was spared a potential new disaster last month when Hurricane Dorian skirted past the U.S. island territory, only to subsequently lay waste to the northern Bahamas.

Two years ago, Puerto Rico was still getting back on its feet from Hurricane Irma when it took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria, which destroyed roads and bridges and left much of the island without electricity for months. Some 3,000 people perished in that storm, the deadliest in the island’s history.

A separate Atlantic tropical storm, Jerry, had higher sustained winds, clocked at 65 mph (100 kph), but remained farther from land on Sunday, the NHC said.

Forecasts called for Jerry to veer sharply to the northeast and pass Tuesday night near Bermuda, far off the South Carolina coast, although no watches or warnings were posted as yet.

Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Peter Cooney

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