Hurricane Fiona swept through Puerto Rico on Monday with pounding rain and wind causing mudslides, “catastrophic” flooding and a power outage that engulfed the entire island. About two-thirds of the 3.2 million inhabitants had no running water.
More than 1,000 water rescues were carried out and more were underway, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said. Even as the storm made landfall in the Dominican Republic on Monday, it continued to plague Puerto Rico with relentless rains — more than 12 inches (30 centimeters) in the southern parts of the island.
The National Weather Service in San Juan urged residents to move “immediately” to higher elevations.
“Heavy rainfall and catastrophic flooding continue across much of Puerto Rico,” said Richard Pasch, a specialist at the National Hurricane Center.
Authorities reported two deaths: a 58-year-old man who was swept away by a flooded river in the interior of Comerio and another, a 70-year-old man who burned to death while trying to run a generator.
The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority said nearly 800,000 customers had no drinking water supply. The entire electrical grid in the US territory of 3.2 million people went out on Sunday afternoon before the storm made landfall, leaving everyone without electricity.
Less than 10% had power back on Monday, and power distribution company LUMA Energy warned that due to the magnitude of the outage, it could take several days to fully restore electricity.
“We have the equipment, tools and resources to respond to this event,” the company said.
The government of the Dominican Republic reported one death from falling trees as a result of the storm, which forced at least four international airports to close, but Fiona moved away from the country by late afternoon. It could become a major hurricane by Tuesday.
In Puerto Rico, the National Guard and municipal emergency management personnel assisted with evacuations and water rescues in several communities of severely damaged Salinas in the south, Mayor Karlyn Bonilla Colón said. She urged residents to stay in their homes or shelters. The southern city of Ponce, the largest population center outside the San Juan metropolitan area, also suffered major flooding.
“Countries are saturated, rivers are overgrown, areas are flooded and streets are still impassable,” Bonilla Colón said. “Please stay safe and think of the first responders and rescue personnel who have done a massive job saving lives.”
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. Only 34% of households have drinking water.
“Most rivers are too high. We have 112 filtration plants and most are supplied by rivers,” Doriel Pagán Crespo, executive president of Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, said in an interview with a radio station in San Juan. She said staff will be sent for cleanup if the water level drops.
“We have activated our staff, we have not stopped working… we will continue to work,” said Pagán Crespo.
The agency said on his Twitter page that water may be cloudy when service is restored and recommended that customers boil water for three minutes before using it for human consumption.
— Adrianna Rodriguez
Up to 30 inches of rain can fall
Parts of the island are still healing from Hurricane Maria’s storm five years ago, and more than 3,000 homes still have blue sails for roofs. Now residents could see up to a foot of rain before the storm rolls out of the area late Monday, AccuWeather reported.
“These rains will continue to cause life-threatening and catastrophic flooding, along with mudslides and landslides in Puerto Rico,” said Brad Reinhart, a hurricane specialist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, adding that “life-threatening flashes and urban flooding are likely for eastern parts.” of the Dominican Republic.”
HURRICANE FIONA MAKES LANDING:Puerto Rico hammered, hit by island-wide power outages
Winds up to 85 mph tore the tops of homes and businesses. The water flowed through streets and into houses. Roads were torn up and a temporary bridge was installed in downtown Utuado by the National Guard after Maria was washed away. Hours of rain were yet to come.
Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan, said the flooding reached “historic” levels.
“It’s important for people to understand that this isn’t over,” Morales said.
How to help Puerto Rico?
In addition to FEMA and local emergency services, several organizations provide assistance to residents, including solar lamps, generators, essential supplies and food. Here’s how you can help:
►PRxPR is a disaster relief fund that focuses on the reconstruction of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The organization is now collecting monetary donations for short- and long-term humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico.
►Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, a mutual aid group based in Boquerón, Puerto Rico, collects essential emergency donations such as sunlamps, water filters, water purification tablets and first aid children, as well as cash donations.
►The Puerto Rican Civic Club in San Jose, California is raising money for solar lamps and gas generators in Puerto Rico. Donate Amazon items and funds here.
►The Hispanic Federation, a nonprofit organization focused on empowering Latinos, raises money for emergency services and essential supplies for communities affected by the storm.
— Cady Stanton
The local population has been suffering from storms for days
Darlene Nieves, an assistant program officer with the aid agency Mercy Corps, said power and water outages in Puerto Rico began Thursday night — three days before the hurricane made landfall, and some communities remain isolated.
“I’ve tried to reach my family, but I can’t because access to roads is blocked by fallen trees, landslides and severe flooding,” said Nieves, who has relatives in the central mountain town of Naranjito. “We’re seeing the same scenario almost everywhere, and we’re still getting flash flood warnings today.”
Nelson Cirino was sleeping in the northern coastal town of Loiza on Sunday when the roof of his house blew.
Ada Vivian Román said the storm has knocked down trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta, southwest of the capital San Juan. She worried about how long the public transportation she relies on to get to work at a PR agency won’t be able to work.
“But I know I am privileged compared to other families who are practically losing their homes because they are under water,” she said.
Governor Pierluisi canceled the island-wide school for Tuesday and said only essential, immediate response personnel should report to public authorities. More than 2,000 residents had moved to 128 shelters, he said.
Puerto Rico in ‘Constant State of Emergency’
Mercy Corps says it has helped people on the island better prepare for disasters by transforming local community centers into “resilience centers” using various combinations of solar energy, drinking water storage, communications systems, emergency kits and disaster preparedness training.
“Puerto Ricans have faced a constant state of emergency for the past five years,” said Allison Dworschak, leader of the agency’s Caribbean Resilience Initiative. “Those who don’t have the financial resources to properly repair the damage are particularly vulnerable to the effects of storms like Fiona.”
President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency and ordered federal aid to complement local responses.
Advocacy group says ‘corporate greed’ contributed to disasters
Jesus Gonzalez, of the Center for People’s Democracy, says “corporate greed” and predatory hedge funds have exacerbated the damage. Gonzalez says the federal government knew Puerto Rico would face another natural disaster but did nothing to prepare for it. Privatization of Puerto Rico’s electricity system reduced investment in infrastructure and green energy in favor of profits, Gonzalez said in an email to USA TODAY.
“austerity policies have crippled Puerto Rico’s infrastructure to pay (debt), limiting the island’s ability to recover from the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria in 2017,” Gonzalez said.
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Where is Fiona now?
Monday at 5 p.m. ET, Fiona drifted away from the Dominican Republic and headed northwest at 10 mph toward Grand Turk Island, 130 miles away, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm had maximum sustained winds of 100 mph, making it a Category 2 hurricane, and they are expected to strengthen.
Rain totals of up to 15 inches were forecast for the eastern Dominican Republic, where authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work.
Fiona became the third hurricane of the 2022 Atlantic season on Sunday, hours before its first landfall on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast. When it made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sunday, Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane on the Saffir-Simpson scale with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph.
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Fiona made a second landfall early Monday in the Dominican Republic about 20 miles south of Punta Cana with sustained winds of 90 mph.
Where will Fiona go next? Will it affect the US?
The effects of Hurricane Fiona will continue for the next few days after the storm leaves the Caribbean, forecasters said. “While the threat of direct impacts on the United States has diminished, the beaches along the East Coast will still feel Fiona’s effects,” said AccuWeather meteorologist Renee Duff.
Beaches along the US east coast will experience high waves, strong rip currents, minor beach erosion and minor coastal flooding for much of this week as Fiona passes offshore, AccuWeather said.
Meteorologists expect Fiona to become the season’s first major Category 3 hurricane with maximum sustained winds of at least 111 mph by mid-week. It could spin near Bermuda as a major hurricane late Thursday or Friday, forecasters said.
Contributors: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The The Bharat Express News