HAVANA (TBEN) – Hurricane Fiona swept through the Dominican Republic on Monday after shutting down the grid and unleashing flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was “catastrophic.”
No deaths have been reported, but authorities on US territory said it was too early to estimate damage from a storm that would continue to send torrential rain across Puerto Rico on Monday.
Up to 30 inches was forecast for the eastern and southern regions of Puerto Rico.
“It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
He said the flooding has reached “historic levels” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across the island.
“The damage we are seeing is catastrophic,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
Brown water poured down streets, into homes, and even consumed a runway in southern Puerto Rico.
Fiona also tore asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria struck as a Category 4 storm in 2017.
The storm also tore the roofs of several homes, including Nelson Cirino’s in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was asleep and then saw the corrugated metal fly away,” he said as he watched the rain soak his property.
Ada Vivian Román, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm has knocked down trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta.
“I’m actually very anxious because it’s a very slow-moving hurricane,” she said.
She said she also worries whether the public transportation she relies on to get to work at a PR firm will work by the time she has to go back to the office.
“But I know I am privileged compared to other families who are practically losing their homes because they are under water,” she said.
Fiona was located 80 miles southeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph on Sunday night, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 9 mph.
It struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island as a Category 3 storm in 1989.
As authorities continue to assess Fiona’s damage, many wondered when power would be restored.
“That’s probably the worst damage there has been,” said Tomás Rivera, co-owner of a hotel in the southwestern coastal town of El Combate.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency on US territory as the eye of the storm approached the southwest corner of the island.
The power outage that caused Hurricane Maria was blamed for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the blistering aftermath of the storm, with power not being restored in some neighborhoods until a year later. Maria was a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on September 20, 2017.
Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including 80 mph winds, disrupted transmission lines on Sunday, leading to “an island-wide power outage.”
Health centers ran on generators – and some of them had failed. Health Minister Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp for their roof and infrastructure remains weak, including the electricity grid. Breakdowns are still common and reconstruction has only recently begun.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have been through Maria have that post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to take and what needs might we face?'” said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital. from San Juan, but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western city of Mayaguez.
The storm ravaged towns and villages along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have not yet fully recovered from a series of strong earthquakes that began in late 2019.
By Sunday evening, more than 1,000 people with some 80 pets had sought shelter on the other side of the island, most of them on the south coast.
Fiona would flood the Dominican Republic and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far south of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo, and for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Fiona has previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.