Hurricane Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sunday at a time when the entire island had lost power when it was battered nearly five years to the day after blockbuster Hurricane Maria devastated U.S. territory.
Fiona, a Category 1 storm, reached Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. ET, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The system is expected to unleash life-threatening rainfall of up to 25 inches and dangerous mudslides, forecasters said. According to the hurricane center, there were likely “catastrophic flooding” in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“It’s time to take action and be concerned,” Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner Nino Correa said before going ashore.
Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution, said high winds disrupted transmission lines, leading to “an island-wide power outage.”
President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in the area, which is home to 3.2 million people, the vast majority of whom are US citizens.
Hurricane Fiona’s projected path
Fiona’s center is likely to remain near or over southwestern and western Puerto Rico Sunday afternoon and evening, the center said. Fiona would then roar closer to the north coast of the Dominican Republic Sunday night and Monday before heading to near or east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.
Torrential rains and mudslides are expected in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, the Hurricane Center said.
After his path through the Caribbean and Bahamas, Fiona was able to move on a path to Bermuda, Accuweather said. Hurricane warnings were in effect for Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
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How much rain is expected?
Fiona was expected to drop 12 to 16 inches of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, and as much as 25 inches in isolated spots, forecasters said.
The storm could pound towns and villages along the south coast that are still recovering from a series of powerful earthquakes that struck in 2019.
“These rains will cause life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in higher elevations,” the Hurricane Center warned.
Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he was ready to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard if necessary.
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What was the storm that devastated the island?
Fiona won’t be the mammoth system that Hurricane Maria was when it made landfall on Sept. 20, 2017 as a Category 4 storm, but it still posed a serious threat, Accuweather said.
Maria was devastating to the island, leading to at least 3,000 deaths. Thousands of homes, roads and recreational areas have yet to be repaired or rebuilt. The government has completed just 21% of more than 5,500 official post-hurricane projects, and seven of the island’s 78 municipalities report that none have begun, the The Bharat Express News reported.
“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 resident Danny Hernández.
Hernandez, who works in the capital of San Juan, said he planned to weather the storm with family in the western city of Mayaguez.
Residents stocking up at supermarkets were nervous, Hernandez said.
“After Maria, we’ve all dealt with scarcity to some degree,” he said.
In the southwestern town of El Combate, which lies in the storm’s path, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera was concerned about the amount of rain that could be unleashed.
Rivera said workers brought bedridden relatives to the hotel, concerned about the government’s slow response after Maria. Rivera said he has diesel, gas, food, water and ice on hand. “What we’ve done is we’ve prepared ourselves to depend as little as possible on the central government,” he said.
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How big is the concern for the electricity grid?
Hurricane Maria destroyed Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. The grid is still very fragile and in the process of rebuilding. Failures occur regularly.
Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution, warned of “widespread service outages” earlier Sunday. By noon the whole island was dark.
“Current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and hamper our ability to evaluate the full situation,” the company said. It could take several days for power to fully restore, Luma said.
Health centers ran on generators, some of which broke down. Health Minister Carlos Mellado said the crew was repairing generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Will Fiona directly affect mainland US?
The potential for a direct impact to the U.S. mainland has diminished since last week, Accuweather said, but the storm could set off dangerous surf and strong currents along the East Coast later this week.
How has the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season been so far?
Fiona became the third hurricane of the Atlantic season on Sunday. The season got off to a slow start.
For the first time in 25 years, no hurricane had formed in August and no storm directly hit the mainland US. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the first hurricane of an Atlantic season typically develops on August 11.
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The season officially started on June 1 and will run through November 30. The peak of the season is usually around September 17th.
Contributors: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The The Bharat Express News