Hurricane Fiona causes catastrophic damage and wastes energy throughout Puerto Rico

A house is submerged in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Fiona in Caye, Puerto Rico, Sunday, September 18, 2022. AP Photo / Stephanie Rojas

HAVANA (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico’s southwest coast on Sunday, unleashing landslides, knocking out the power grid, tore asphalt off roads and flinging blocks around.

Hundreds of people were evacuated or rescued across the island as the flood waters rose rapidly. Flowing rivers of brown water envelope the cars, first floors and even the runway in the southern region of the island.

Forecasters said the storm threatens to dump “historic” levels of rain on Sunday and Monday, with a potential of up to 30 inches (76 cm) in eastern and southern Puerto Rico.

“The damage we’re seeing is catastrophic,” Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.

The storm swept away a bridge in the central mountain town of Ottoado that police said was erected by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017. Large landslides have also been reported, with water flowing over large slabs of broken asphalt and into canyons.

Fiona’s center was 45 miles (75 kilometers) southeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) Sunday night, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the west-northwest at 10 mph (17 kph).

Fiona hit the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which struck Puerto Rico 33 years ago as a Category 3 storm.

Storm clouds covered the entire island and tropical storm winds extended as far as 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center of Fiona.

APTOPIX Puerto Rico Tropical Weather

A house is submerged in floodwaters caused by Hurricane Fiona in Caye, Puerto Rico, Sunday, September 18, 2022. AP Photo / Stephanie Rojas

US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency on US soil as the eye of the storm approaches the southwest corner of the island.

Loma, which manages power transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including 80-mph winds, had disrupted transmission lines, causing “power outages across the island.”

“The current weather conditions are very dangerous and hinder our ability to assess the full situation,” she added, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

The health centers were powered by generators – and some failed. Health Minister Carlos Melado said crews rushed to fix the generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where many patients had been evacuated.

Fiona struck just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on September 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power grid and killing nearly 3,000 people.

More than 3,000 homes still have blue tarpaulins as a roof, and infrastructure is still poor, including the power grid. Disruptions are still common, and reconstruction has only recently begun.

“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have lived through Maria suffer from post-traumatic stress, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to last and what needs might we have?'” Danny Hernandez, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.

It was bleak, he said, in the supermarket where he and others stored it before the storm hit.

“After Maria,” he said, “we’ve all experienced scarcity to some degree.”

puerto rico tropical weather

A road is closed due to a mudslide caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayai, Puerto Rico, Sunday, September 18, 2022. AP Photo / Stephanie Rojas

The storm was expected to hit cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have not yet fully recovered from a series of powerful earthquakes that began in late 2019.

By Sunday night, more than 1,000 people with about 80 pets sought shelter across the island, mostly on the south coast.

Ada Vivian Romain, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm destroyed trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta.

“I’m actually very worried because it’s a slow-moving hurricane and time doesn’t move,” she said. “She looks at the clock and it’s still the same hour.”

She also said she was concerned about whether the public transportation she depends on to get to her job at a PR agency will be running by the time she has to return to the office.

“But I know I’m lucky compared to other families who practically lose their homes because they’re underwater,” she said.

In the southwestern town of El Compat, Thomas Rivera, one of the hotel’s owners, said he was prepared but worried about the “enormous” amount of rain he expected. He noted that a nearby wildlife refuge was eerily quiet before the storm hit.

“There are thousands of birds here,” he said, “and they can’t be seen anywhere.” “Even the birds have realized what is to come, and they are preparing.”

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria

An aerial view of Getsabel Osorio’s home and neighborhood in Luisa, Puerto Rico. Alejandro Granadillo/The Associated Press

Rivera said his staff brought bedridden family members to the hotel, where he stored diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given how slow the government’s response was after Hurricane Maria.

“What we have done is our willingness to rely as little as possible on the central government,” he said.

Puerto Rico Governor Berluisi has activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approaches.

“What worries me most is the rain,” said meteorologist Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Fiona was expected to receive 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 cm) of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 30 inches (76 cm) in isolated areas. Morales noted that Hurricane Maria in 2017 unleashed 40 inches (102 cm).

Fiona was expected to sweep across the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the southernmost tip of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

A hurricane warning has been posted for the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Francis Vigo.

Officials said Fiona previously hit the Eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French province of Guadeloupe when floods swept away his home. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

Saint Kitts and Nevis also reported flooding and fallen trees, but announced the reopening of its international airport on Sunday afternoon.

In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeleine was expected to bring torrential rain and flooding across parts of southwestern Mexico. The storm was centered 160 miles (260 km) west-southwest of Cabo Corrientes on Sunday night with maximum sustained winds of 50 mph (85 kph).

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