Though anxious, hurricane-hit Puerto Ricans face Dorian with 'relative calm'

"We just want this to go away fast," a community leader said, echoing how many felt as Hurricane Dorian left thousands without power.

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By Nicole Acevedo

Puerto Ricans, who were taken by surprise Wednesday when Tropical Storm Dorian became a Category 1 hurricane, contradicting earlier predictions, say they are worried but trying to stay relatively calm amid the fierce winds and expected torrential rains.

Elda Guadalupe Carrasquillo remembers surviving Hurricane Maria two years ago in her home in Vieques, a smaller island municipality about seven miles off the southeast coast of Puerto Rico.

She recalls how her son and husband held the door to their house for almost eight hours after Maria’s strong winds blew out most of the windows in their concrete home, causing significant water damage inside.

“Maria was the worst-case scenario,” Guadalupe Carrasquillo told NBC News in Spanish. “So when we prepare for natural disasters now, we keep that in mind.”

Even before Dorian officially became a hurricane, Guadalupe Carrasquillo had decided to seek refuge in her sister’s house, which is in an area that’s less exposed to strong winds and floods.

Guadalupe said she protected her home with storm shutters and plastic covers to minimize possible water damage.

“It’s true that whenever a storm becomes a hurricane it causes some anxiety, but at the end of the day, we’ve done our best to stay in a safe place,” she said.

Vieques has been feeling hurricane force winds since Wednesday morning according to the National Hurricane Center.

The news came as a surprise to residents such as Guadalupe Carrasquillo and the mayor of Vieques, Víctor Emeric, since the storm was originally expected to move away from the eastern coast of Puerto Rico.

“I think the municipality as a whole could have been more ready,” Guadalupe Carrasquillo said. “A school was opened this morning in case people needed a safe place to stay during the hurricane, but it was unclear to us whether the shelter was equipped with the necessary generators and food supplies.”

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In an interview with Telemundo Puerto Rico, Emeric said that “very little else can be done.”

“We have opened shelters and citizens have taken safety precautions. There is very little left to do other than making sure that people stay in their homes, to not to be near the beaches, to not be in the streets, because that's where most of the misfortunes come, when people start going outside,” Emeric said.

For Guadalupe Carrasquillo, one of her major concerns was the intense rains Dorian is expected to bring.

"Creeks here were not cleaned appropriately, so when the rains come, they will overflow, and that worries me," she said.

The eye of Hurricane Dorian is expected to pass by Culebra, another Puerto Rican island municipality located about 10 to 15 miles from the northeast coast of the town of Fajardo, later Wednesday evening, Ernesto Morales of the National Meteorological Service in San Juan said during a press conference.

Cristóbal Jiménez, a community leader with the group Corazón Latino who has lived in Fajardo for more than 40 years, is one of the roughly 35,000 people in the town bracing to receive torrential rains Wednesday evening.

While “water is the major concern” for Jiménez, he feels confident that his community is ready.

“We are prepared,” Jiménez told NBC News. “After Maria, we know everything we need to do to be ready. … Now, we just want this to go away fast and see if the government finally learned the lessons” from Maria.

At least one hurricane-related death has been reported in Puerto Rico.

An 80-year-old man died after falling from a ladder while climbing his home’s roof, as part of the storm preparations, to clean the drains, according to El Nuevo Día, the island’s main newspaper. The man lived in the town of Bayamón, which is about 13 miles from San Juan, the capital city.

Amid the tragedy, Guadalupe Carrasquillo said Puerto Ricans have remained relatively calm as they face Dorian.

She said Vieques has enough gasoline available to operate vehicles and generators, and supermarkets were stocked with food to survive the storm.

Lenis Rodríquez, a community leader in the town of Yabucoa, echoed Guadalupe Carrasquillo’s comment, saying “a relative calm can be felt.”

“Local officials are doing their part and are visiting flood zones in Yabucoa and law enforcement is on the ground,” Rodríguez told NBC News in Spanish. “The gas stations are crowded, but it’s not chaotic… Electricity and power services remain normal.”

Puerto Rico's power authority reported that thousands of customers lost power during the storm, but services in some areas have been restored.

As Dorian makes landfall in Puerto Rico, tens of thousands of homes in the island are still covered with blue tarps or have roof damage caused by Maria in 2017, according to Deepak Lamba-Nieves, research director at the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank.

In the town of Fajardo, at least 144 people living under blue tarps incurred flooding as Dorian brought heavy rains to the area.

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