Hurricane Fiona slammed into the Dominican Republic on Monday after knocking out the power grid and triggering flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was “catastrophic”.
No deaths were reported, but authorities in the US territory said it was too early to estimate the damage from a storm that was still expected to unleash torrential rains on Puerto Rico on Monday.
Up to 30 inches (76 centimeters) were planned for the eastern and southern regions of Puerto Rico.
“It’s important for people to understand that it’s not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
He said flooding had reached “historic levels” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across the island.
“The damage we are seeing is catastrophic,” Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.
Brown water rushed down streets, into homes and even consumed an airport runway in southern Puerto Rico.
Fiona also ripped asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 as a storm of category 4.
The storm also ripped the roofs off several homes, including that of Nelson Cirino in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was sleeping and I saw when the corrugated iron flew off,” he said, observing how the rain had soaked his belongings.
Ada Vivian Román, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm toppled 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’s also worried about whether the public transport she relies on to get to her job at a PR agency will work by the time she has to get back to the office.
“But I know I’m privileged compared to other families who practically lose their homes because they’re underwater,” she said.
Fiona was centered 85 kilometers southeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) Sunday evening, according to the US National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 9 mph (15 km/h).
It hit on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
As authorities continue to assess the damage caused by Fiona, many have wondered when power will be restored.
“It’s probably the worst of the damage,” said Tomás Rivera, co-owner of a hotel in the southwestern coastal town of El Combate.
US 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 caused by Hurricane Maria was responsible for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the sweltering aftermath of the storm, with power to some neighborhoods not restored until a year later. Maria was a devastating Category 4 storm that hit on September 20, 2017.
Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including 80mph winds, disrupted transmission lines on Sunday, leading to “a power outage across the island “.
Health centers were running on generators – and some of them had broken down. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
More than 3,000 houses still have only blue tarpaulin roofs, and infrastructure remains weak, including the electricity grid. Breakdowns remain common and rebuilding has only recently begun.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have lived through Maria have this post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is this going to last, and what needs might we be facing? ? said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to ride out the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.
The storm hit towns and villages along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have yet to fully recover from a series of strong earthquakes beginning in late 2019.
More than 1,000 people with some 80 pets had sought refuge across the island by Sunday evening, the majority of them on the south coast.
Fiona was expected to sweep across the Dominican Republic early Monday, then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far south of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the east coast of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo, and for the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Fiona has already battered the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.
This story was originally published September 19, 2022 12:04 a.m.