Puerto Rico was without power as night fell on Sunday amid catastrophic flooding, hurricane-force winds and the destruction of at least one bridge, five years almost to the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
Hurricane Fiona made landfall at 3:20 p.m. and soon caused a stir, with government officials saying they were ready to evacuate residents of hard-hit areas.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference on Sunday that the tropical cyclone came “straight for the island.” He later said in a statement that the eye of the storm was on its way, but the storm’s impact would continue at least until Monday.
Nearly 1.5 million utilities were left without power, thanks to winds estimated at 85 mph, well above minimum hurricane strength. The National Hurricane Center said Puerto Rico could get 12 to 18 inches of rain, with 30 inches possible in some areas.
Pierluisi said the storm dumped 9 to 13 inches of rain in five hours.
“These rains will cause life-threatening and catastrophic flashes and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in higher elevations,” the Hurricane Center said in an advisory early evening.
Earlier, Pierluisi tried to reassure Puerto Ricans that the government was prepared for the worst by pronunciation that the necessary protocols were in place.
First responders responded to emergencies where people’s lives were in danger, he said.
The number of customers without power was 1,468,223, according to poweroutage.us.
Island company LUMA Energy said in its own statement that it may take several days to restore power, given the dangerous conditions on the island Sunday evening and the widespread nature of the outage.
It said the power grid has been cut several times along transmission lines, which has contributed to the power outages across the island.
The battle for electricity recalled the bitter memory of one of the worst storms to ever hit Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria, the deadliest natural disaster on US soil in 100 years.
The storm, blamed for 2,975 deaths, struck on September 20, 2017 and soon revealed that the island’s grid was deteriorating.
The resulting blackout, which lasted nearly 11 months, became the second longest in the world.
In the afternoon, what appeared to be a vehicular bridge in the town of Utuado, in the mountainous region of Cordillera Central, was washed away by rainwater, according to multiple videos obtained by NBC News.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said on Sunday that two members of Pennsylvania Task Force 1 Urban Search & Rescue would travel to Puerto Rico with a federal incident support team.
He said first responders were willing to spend up to two weeks in Puerto Rico.
Earlier, President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency for the island. That freed up federal emergency response efforts to help local rescuers, and it makes the Federal Emergency Management Agency available cash and aid for Puerto Ricans affected by Fiona.
Forecasters evoked the same wind and rain for almost two days.
A hurricane warning was in effect for Puerto Rico and the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Francés Viejo, the National Hurricane Center said earlier Sunday.
It means residents can expect hurricane conditions in the next 24 hours, with sustained surface winds of at least 74 mph, the center said. “Preparations to protect life and property must be completed urgently,” it said.
A 48-hour hurricane watch was in effect off the north coast of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Francés Viejo to Puerto Plata.
Fiona would head northwest, near the north coast of the Dominican Republic, bringing with it winds of 85 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said. It was then expected to move near or east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.
Winds could become even stronger over the next two days, according to the National Hurricane Center, adding that the hurricane is also expected to bring torrential rains, flash floods and mudslides to the Dominican Republic.
The British and U.S. Virgin Islands, the Turks and Caicos, and the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic could receive 3 to 20 inches of rain as the storm approaches.
Pierluisi announced on Twitter on Sunday that classes at the island’s public schools will be canceled Monday, as will government agencies, with the exception of first responders and essential personnel.
The governor too said on Twitter Sunday that people in flood-prone areas should evacuate and that 118 shelters are open.
Pierluisi said $550 million in emergency funds were available to deal with the aftermath of the hurricane, along with enough food to feed 200,000 people three times a day for 20 days.
The governor previously said the expected heavy rainfall is dangerous because the island’s soil is already saturated.
One death from a hurricane has been reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe, where more than 20 people were rescued by strong winds and rain, leaving 13,000 customers without power.
Regional prefect Alexandre Rochatte told reporters on Saturday that the body was found by the side of a road after floods washed away a house in the capital Basse-Terre.
Josh Craduck, Michelle Acevedo, Courtney Brogle, Alec Hernandez, Bryan Gallion and Ali Gostanian contributed.