Havana (AP) — Hurricane Fiona bore down on Monday after knocking down power grids in the Dominican Republic and causing flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was “devastating.”
No deaths have been reported, but US field officials said it was too early to estimate damage from the storm, which forecast torrential rain in Puerto Rico on Monday.
Up to 30 inches were forecast for the eastern and southern regions of Puerto Rico.
“It’s important that people understand it’s not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
He said the floods had reached “historic levels”, with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across the island.
“The damage we are seeing is devastating,” said Governor Pedro Pierlucci.
Brown water seeped into streets, homes and even consumed a runway airport in southern Puerto Rico.
Fiona also ripped asphalt off roads and swept a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police say was set up by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit as a Category 4 hurricane in 2017. .
The storm broke the roofs of several homes, including Nelson Sirino, in the northern coastal city of Loiza.
“I was sleeping and saw when the corrugated metal flew off,” he said of how the rain soaked his belongings.
Ada Vivian Roman, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm tore down trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta.
“I’m really worried because it’s a really slow-moving storm,” she said.
He said he is also concerned about whether the public transport he relies on to get his job at the public transport agency will operate by the time he has to go back to office.
“But I know I am privileged compared to other families who are practically losing their homes because they are under water,” she said.
According to the US National Hurricane Center, Fiona was centered about 50 miles southeast of Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic on Sunday night with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph. It was moving to the northwest at 9 mph.
It hit the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 hurricane.
As officials continued to assess damage from Fiona, many wondered when power would be restored.
“It’s probably the worst loss,” said Tomas Rivera, who co-owns a hotel in the southwest coastal town of El Combet.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in US territory as the storm moved closer to the southwest corner of the island.
The blackout caused by Hurricane Maria was blamed for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people after the storm’s intensification, with power not restored in some neighborhoods until a year later. Maria was a devastating Category 4 hurricane that struck on September 20, 2017.
Luma, which operates electricity transmission and distribution, said inclement weather, including winds of up to 80 mph, disrupted transmission lines on Sunday, causing “blackouts across the island”.
The health centers were running on generators and some of them had failed. Health Secretary Carlos Melado said personnel arrived to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients were to be evacuated.
More than 3,000 homes still have only one blue wire as a roof, and the infrastructure is weak, including the power grid. Outages are common, and reconstruction has recently begun.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is this going to last and what needs are we going to face? ‘” said Danny Hernandez, who works in the capital of San Juan but plans to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western city of Mayaguez.
The storm devastated cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast, which have yet to fully recover from a string of strong earthquakes that began in late 2019.
More than 1,000 people, along with some 80 pets, had sought refuge across the island as of Sunday night, most of them in the southern coast.
Fiona was forecast to swipe the Dominican Republic and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands early Monday with the threat of heavy rain. This could threaten the far southern tip of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
Hurricane warnings were posted for the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Cabocasdo to Cabo Frances Viejo and for Turks and Caicos.
Officials said Fiona had previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one person in the French region of Guadeloupe after floods swept away her home.