Tropical Storm Karen skirts Puerto Rico's eastern edge

(Reuters) - Tropical Storm Karen brushed over the eastern edge of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, forecasters said, sparing the U.S. Caribbean territory from a direct hit two years after the island was left devastated from back-to-back hurricanes.

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The center of Karen, packing sustained top winds of 45 miles per hour (75 kph), swept over the isles of Vieques and Culebra in the narrow passage between Puerto Rico’s main island and the U.S. Virgin Islands to the east, the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami reported.

Puerto Rico authorities called on residents to be ready to seek shelter if they live in low-lying areas. The NHC said the storm was expected to dump up to 10 inches (25.5 cm) of rain over the islands.

Karen’s center was on track to churn toward the northeast away from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands late on Tuesday, though strong squalls south of the storm were expected to buffet the islands through the night, the NHC said.

Forecasts call for the storm to move out over the open western Atlantic by Wednesday.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vasquez Garced urged the public to exercise caution and stick to family emergency plans.

“It’s important that everyone determine if you live in a vulnerable area and if so you should go to a shelter,” Garced said in a post on Twitter.

Earlier in the week, the storm unleashed floods and damaged properties on other Caribbean islands, including Trinidad and Tobago, according to video images that showed people using shovels to clear mud-covered roadways.

Flash-flood watches and warnings across Puerto Rico said its eastern and southern regions would be the hardest hit, especially hills and mountainsides vulnerable to mudslides.

Karen, the 11th named storm of the 2019 Atlantic hurricane season, formed on Sunday afternoon east of the Lesser Antilles.

Puerto Rico, beset with financial woes and political turmoil, averted a potential new disaster last month when Hurricane Dorian skirted past it before laying waste to the northern Bahamas.

Two years ago, Puerto Rico was still recovering from Hurricane Irma when it took a direct hit from Hurricane Maria. At least 3,000 people perished in that storm, the deadliest in the island’s recorded history.

Reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta and Dan Trotta and Barbara Goldberg in New York; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Sherry Jacob-Phillips