Hurricane Fiona swept through the Dominican Republic on Monday, a day after all of Puerto Rico cut power and caused damage that the governor described as “catastrophic.” Many people were also without a water supply.
Fiona’s blow was made even more devastating as Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people in 2017 and destroyed the electrical grid. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island still have blue roof tarps.
Fiona’s wind and water cleared the sidewalk, ripped off roofs and sent running water to homes. The storm also destroyed a bridge and flooded two airports.
Authorities reported no direct deaths from the hurricane, but Puerto Rico officials said it was too early to know the full extent of the damage. The storm was still expected to bring torrential rain across the US territory, which is home to 3.2 million people.
One death was linked to the blackout — a 70-year-old man who was burned after trying to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, officials said.
Government Pedro Pierluisi declined to say how long it would take to fully restore electricity, but said it would be “a matter of days” for most customers.
800 people evacuated in Dominican Republic
Since the storm started, National Guard troops have rescued more than 900 people, General Jose Reyes told a news conference.
Meanwhile, the government emergency center in the Dominican Republic reported fallen trees and power poles. Nearly 800 people were evacuated to safer locations and more than 500 were in shelters, officials said.
The National Weather Service office in Puerto Rico said flash flooding was occurring in south-central parts of the island, tweeting, “MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND IMMEDIATELY!”
In some parts of Puerto Rico, up to 56 inches of rain fell, and forecasters said another 10 to 20 inches could fall as the storm dissipates, with even more in places.
Rain totals of up to 38 centimeters were forecast in the eastern Dominican Republic, where authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work.
“It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the San Juan Weather Service.
‘The damage we are seeing is catastrophic’
He said the flooding reached “historic levels” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people in Puerto Rico.
“The damage we’re seeing is catastrophic,” Pierluisi said.
Water supplies were cut to more than 837,000 customers — two-thirds of the island’s total — due to cloudy water at filter installations or lack of power, officials said.
Before dawn on Monday, authorities navigated in a boat through the flooded streets of the north coast town of Catano, using a megaphone to warn people that the pumps had collapsed and urging them to evacuate as soon as possible.
Authorities say at least 1,300 people have spent the night in shelters across the island.
Brown water poured into streets and homes and closed airports in Ponce and Mayaguez.
The system also ripped asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police said was installed by the National Guard after Maria struck as a Category 4 storm.
Fiona also tore the roofs of houses, including that of Nelson Cirino in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was asleep and saw the corrugated metal fly away,” he said as he watched the rain soak his belongings and the wind whip his colorful curtains into the sky.
By early afternoon, Fiona had moved to the open Atlantic, where it was expected to strengthen, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Monday at 2 p.m. local time it was centered about 270 kilometers southeast of Grand Turk Island and was heading northwest at 15 kph, with maximum sustained winds of 90 kph.
Tropical storm winds stretched 220 kilometers from the center.
State of emergency in effect
US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency as the eye of the storm approached the southwest corner of the island.
Puerto Rico’s health centers ran on generators, and some of them failed. Health Minister Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
Fiona has previously assaulted the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.
The system hit Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island as a Category 3 storm in 1989.