Flash flood watch for multiple counties through 9 a.m. Tuesday

Ready or not, Puerto Ricans rush to prepare as storm nears Caribbean

People wait in line outside a Costco in Bayamon, Puerto Rico.

PUERTO RICO — With Puerto Rico still recovering from hurricanes Irma and Maria last year, cautious residents filled supermarkets and department stores Friday as the first Atlantic hurricane of the season approached the Caribbean.

Hurricane Beryl, a Category 1 storm, is expected to move through the Lesser Antilles late Sunday and pass south of Puerto Rico. The island is expected to see minimal tropical storm-force winds, CNN meteorologist Taylor Ward said Friday, but it is hard to predict the storm’s path beyond the 48-hour period.

But the news of a storm nearing the island was enough for Puerto Ricans to flood stores to stock up on items such as water and dry goods.

Photos and videos shared on social media show long lines at wholesale stores such as Costco and Sam’s Club, with shopping carts packed with essential items. And the chatter dominating social media was that the pain caused by Irma and Maria is still very much present, and Puerto Ricans are not ready to deal with it all over again.

Frances Colon, who lives in Miami but is in the island for a wedding, shared a photo Friday morning of a line of people that spread to the parking lot of a Costco in Bayamon, a city west of San Juan.

Colon told CNN that during her visit she noticed the possibility of another storm is on everyone’s minds.

“People are very aware and they want to be prepared,” Colon said.

Gabriel Rivera-Cruz, a resident of San Juan, went to the same Costco on Thursday night with his family. He said they wanted to go “before people flooded the stores” to buy water and canned food in case Beryl changes it path, but to his surprise, there was already a long line of people in the store just to purchase bottled water.

“I was surprised to see the long lines,” Rivera-Cruz said. “I think the memories from (last year’s) hurricanes are so fresh that we have a clear idea of the effects and which items can be scarce or hard to find.”

“Most people I know are aware that this storm doesn’t seem to be a second Maria, but is simply a wake-up call that the hurricane season is here and we are still extremely vulnerable,” Rivera-Cruz added.

Rivera-Cruz said the area where he lives was first impacted by Hurricane Irma, so the family decided to move in temporarily with his in-laws. But then Maria happened and the family didn’t return to their home until they were able to find a donated generator. They were without power for more than three months and still don’t have Internet service.

“Having two kids in a world without medical services, gas and access to food is terrifying,” Rivera-Cruz said.

Jacksel Rodriguez captured a similar sight at a Sam’s Club store in Ponce, a city on the southern part of the island: thick lines near the checkout and shopping carts packed with bottled water and food that doesn’t need to be refrigerated.

Rodriguez, who lives in the neighboring town of Juana Diaz, told CNN he went to the store to stock up on water, bug spray and batteries. But Rodriguez has been preparing since April for what this year’s hurricane season may bring. He built what he described as an emergency kit, keeping in mind what he didn’t have and what were scarce in the aftermath of Maria — manly drinking water and a generator.

Rodriguez said he doesn’t think Puerto Rico is ready for another storm, “not even a small one.”

“Most of the power grid was just repaired, not updated, and the power goes out even with light winds — imagine a big storm,” Rodriguez said.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosello encouraged people Friday afternoon “to take action” and prepare for the possibility of Beryl impacting the island. Rosello declared a state of emergency for the island and said a price freeze on vital goods had been issued.