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Hurricane Dorian swept by Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Wednesday, on track for what could be landfall as a Category 3 storm in Florida over the weekend. An 80-year-old man died in Puerto Rico when he fell from a ladder while preparing his home for the storm, police said.
Few casualties and little confirmed damage were reported in the Caribbean as Dorian, which became a hurricane Wednesday afternoon, skirted Puerto Rico.
Police in Bayamón told Telemundo PR, the San Juan affiliate of NBC News' Spanish-language network, that the octogenarian was climbing a ladder to clear drains in preparation for the storm when he slipped and fell, sustaining a fatal head injury.
Dorian was 90 miles north of Puerto Rico late Wednesday and was tracking northwest at 13 mph, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. All watches and warnings were canceled in the region.
But that's expected to be only a temporary lull — data from an Air Force hurricane aircraft indicated that Dorian was intensifying late Wednesday, while radar showed that its eye was becoming better defined.
Forecasters said Dorian looked likely to continue gathering steam over the Atlantic Ocean in the next two days and could threaten the Bahamas as early as Saturday and then parts of Florida as a powerful hurricane over the holiday weekend.
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The hurricane center stressed that Dorian's path could shift again, but projections Wednesday night suggested it could arrive as a Category 3 storm with winds of 111 mph to 129 mph along Florida's Atlantic coast sometime Sunday night through Monday night.
The southeastern United States was expected to get 4 to 8 inches of rain, with some isolated areas seeing 10 inches, forecasters said.
Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency for parts of Florida on Wednesday afternoon.
"It's important for Floridians on the East Coast to monitor this storm closely," he said in a statement. "Every Florida resident should have seven days of supplies, including food, water and medicine, and should have a plan in case of disaster."
Jared Moskowitz, director of the state Emergency Operations Center, said that because of the unclear path projection, "we have to plan for all contingencies," NBC affiliate WJHG of Panama City reported.
"People turn on the news, and nobody knows where the storm is going, right?" Moskowitz said. "They see what's going on and they factor in, well, where is it going? Is is going to Jacksonville? Is it going to Dade County?"
In Polk County, in central Florida southwest of Orlando, officials were sounding the alarm about the potential for devastating floods when Dorian dumps its rain on wetlands already waterlogged by this summer's weather.
"That's a big concern, that we're already saturated," Jay Jarvis, the county's director of roads and drainage, told NBC affiliate WFLA of Tampa.
"We're already really wet," Jarvis said. "That much more water is going to create flooding across the county."
Quinton Whitmire lives along Crooked Lake near Lake Wales, and his dock and the beach in front of his home are already underwater before Dorian even arrives.
"It's like we got a huge spigot wide open going into the lake, and then we got a little bitty drain trying to get it out,” he told WFLA.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry reassured his residents that this was "no time to panic," saying at a news conference: "We've done this before. We've been through this together."
But he also warned that it wasn't clear so far in advance exactly how Dorian would develop, and he urged, "Please know your evacuation zone."
And while Curry said Saturday's scheduled college football game in Jacksonville between Florida State University and Boise State University was still on, he cautioned fans to "wait and see."
"It's time to start meeting and talking about the potential impact over the next five days," he said.
While Dorian didn't give Puerto Rico a direct hit, it could still test the island's electrical grid two years after Hurricane Maria wiped out power on the entire island and thousands of people died in the aftermath. In some areas, power wasn't fully restored until a year later.
President Donald Trump approved state of emergency declarations for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, allowing federal authorities to coordinate aid efforts.
But Wednesday morning, the president had this message for Puerto Rico: "Puerto Rico is one of the most corrupt places on earth. Their political system is broken and their politicians are either Incompetent or Corrupt," he tweeted. "Congress approved Billions of Dollars last time, more than anyplace else has ever gotten, and it is sent to Crooked Pols. No good!"
Trump has repeated a false claim that Congress sent $92 billion of aid to Puerto Rico. Congress has allocated $42.5 billion to disaster relief for Puerto Rico, according to federal data, but the island had received less than $14 billion through May.
Trump then said he was "the best thing that's ever happened to Puerto Rico!"
Earlier Wednesday, Trump said authorities were tracking Dorian "as it heads, as usual, to Puerto Rico."
Trump then defended the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, which was widely criticized after Maria in September 2017, and targeted a regular critic of his, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.
"FEMA and all others are ready, and will do a great job. When they do, let them know it, and give them a big Thank You — Not like last time," Trump tweeted. "That includes from the incompetent Mayor of San Juan!"