Hurricane Fiona hit the southwest coast of Puerto Rico on Sunday as it caused landslides, shut down the power grid, ripped asphalt from roads and scattered pieces.
Forecastswould cause massive flooding and threaten to discharge “historical” levels of rain, up to 30 inches possible in eastern and southern Puerto Rico.
“The damage we are seeing is catastrophic,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
“I urge people to stay in their homes,” said William Miranda Torres, mayor of the northern city of Caguas, where at least one major landslide has been reported, with water flowing down a large slab of broken asphalt into the gorge.
The storm also washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police said was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
Fiona was located 10 miles west of Mayaguez with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the US National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 9mph.
Fiona struck the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo that hit Puerto Rico 33 years ago as a Category 3 storm.
Storm clouds covered the entire island, and tropical storm winds stretched up to 140 miles from downtown Fiona.
US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency on US territory as the eye of the storm approached the island’s southwest corner.
Luma, a power transmission and distribution company, said bad weather, including winds of 80mph, disrupted transmission lines, leading to “island-wide blackout.”
“The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and make it difficult to judge the whole situation,” he said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.
The health centers ran on generators – and some of them failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews are working to repair the generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center as soon as possible.
Fiona struck just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck September 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power grid and causing nearly 3,000 d*aths.
More than 3,000 homes still only have a blue tarpaulin as a roof and the infrastructure remains poor.
“I think all Puerto Ricans who have survived Maria experience post-traumatic stress:” What will happen, how long will it take, and with what needs can we face? ” Said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western city of Mayaguez.
He said the atmosphere in the supermarket was grim as he and the others stocked up before the storm.
“After Mary, we all experienced a shortage to some extent,” he said.
The storm was predicted to hit towns and cities along Puerto Rico’s south coast that had yet to be fully recovered from a series of severe earthquakes that began in late 2019.
Officials reported several road closures across the island as trees and small landslides blocked access.
More than 780 people with around 80 pets sought refuge across the island until Saturday night, most of them on the south coast.
Puerto Rico’s power grid was razed to the ground by Hurricane Maria and remains weak, with reconstruction only recently started. Downtime is everyday life.
In the southwestern city of El Combate, Hotel Co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but was worried about the “enormous” amount of rain he expected. He noticed that the nearby wildlife shelter was eerily quiet.
“There are thousands of birds here and you can’t see them anywhere,” he said. “Even the birds have realized what is coming and are getting ready.”
Rivera said his staff brought bedridden family members to the hotel, where he stocked up on diesel, gas, food, water and ice, given how slowly the government reacted after Hurricane Maria.
“What we have done is prepare to rely as little as possible on a central government,” he said.
This feeling is shared by Ana Córdova, 70, who arrived on Saturday at the Loiza shelter on the north coast after purchasing plenty of food and water.
“I don’t trust them,” she said, referring to the government. “I lost my trust after what happened after Hurricane Maria.”
The governor of Puerto Rico, Pedro Pierluisi, activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approached.
“I’m worried about the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Fiona was projected to fall 12 to 16 inches of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, and as much as 25 inches in single spots. Morales noticed that Hurricane Maria in 2017 released 40 inches.
Pierluisi announced on Sunday that public schools and government agencies would remain closed on Monday.
Fiona was forecast to embrace the Dominican Republic on Monday, followed by northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rains. On Tuesday, it could threaten the far southern tip of the Bahamas.
The Hurricane Warning has been published for the Dominican east coast from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.
Fiona had previously hit the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in Guadeloupe’s French territory as floods washed away his home. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees, and destroyed at least one bridge.
St. Kitts and Nevis have also reported flooding and fallen trees, but announced that the international airport will reopen on Sunday afternoon. In the event of disasters, dozens of customers still had no electricity or water, according to the Caribbean Emergency Management Agency.
In the eastern Pacific, the Madeline tropical storm is predicted to cause heavy rains and flooding in parts of southwest Mexico. The storm was concentrated approximately 155 miles southwest of Cabo Corrientes on Sunday morning, with a maximum steady wind of 45 mph.
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