Puerto Rico was reeling Monday after Hurricane Fiona dumped more than two feet of rain on the island, killing at least one person and leaving most of it without power.
Fiona plowed into neighboring Dominican Republic as a Category 1 storm, triggering flash flood warnings and forecasts of up to 20 inches of rain in the eastern part of the country, the National Hurricane Center said.
National Guard troops carried out hundreds of rescues and about 1,500 people were evacuated to shelters and safer ground. The Associated Press reported:.
“It destroyed everything”, one resident told Reuters. “Everything has been compromised. It all has to be rebuilt, all of this.”
The storm would strengthen into a major hurricane later Monday or Tuesday, with winds exceeding 111 mph, headed for the Turks and Caicos Islands, the hurricane center said.
Earlier Monday, Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi told reporters the US territory needs help with first responders and the New York government Kathy Hochul has already vowed to send 100 to help.
Puerto Rico has four warehouses with enough food and water to keep up with the emergency relief phase, Pierluisi said, stressing that humanitarian aid may be needed once the island enters the recovery phase.
The governor hopes to have an initial estimate of damage after tropical storm rains dissipate Tuesday, a process needed for Puerto Rico to apply for a formal disaster declaration that would free up additional funds to help it with recovery efforts, he said. .
President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency on the island on Sunday, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to intervene with response resources.
Most of Puerto Rico’s nearly 1.5 million power customers are without electricity. By Monday afternoon, about 100,000 customers had their electricity restored, according to Luma Energy, the company responsible for power transmission and distribution in Puerto Rico.
A 58-year-old man was found dead Monday afternoon after being swept by the currents of the La Plata River in the city of Comerío, Telemundo Puerto Rico reported.
Pierluisi said two other people who died in shelters are believed to have died of natural causes; However, officials are waiting for the Institute of Forensic Sciences to confirm that.
A 70-year-old man from the city of Arecibo died of fire-related injuries after a generator he was using exploded. Emergency services said the man tried to refuel his generator while it was still running, causing the machine to explode.
Heavy rain caused an “unprecedented build-up of water in some areas,” Pierluisi said; worst affected are towns in the mountainous area in the center of the island, as well as in the southern region.
‘It’s a disaster’
In the southern city of Ponce, a family lost everything after floods covered their home and hurricane winds blew the roof off.
“As you can see, it’s a disaster,” Carlos Jimenez, who lives in the house, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish. “I know I’ll get out of this, but it’s hard.”
Much of Puerto Rico was ravaged by catastrophic flooding after Fiona made landfall at 3:20 p.m. on Sunday. About an hour earlier, an island-wide power outage was reported as the hurricane hit eye approached Puerto Ricothe southwest coast.
The devastation and grid failure mirrors the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall five years ago this month as the deadliest natural disaster on US soil in 100 years.
Jayson Martínez, the mayor of the southwestern city of Lajas, estimated it could take two to three months to get his city back to power, given the damage he saw Monday.
“I really hope I’m wrong. I’m afraid we’ll have more blue tarps if we have a lot of blue tarps left,” Martínez, a former electric cable worker, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish, referring to the devastated houses that have not been rebuilt since Maria in 2017.
On Mondays the National Weather Service in San Juan urged people to “go to higher ground immediately” because of flash flooding, which is expected to be exacerbated by the pouring rain.
Showers and wind gusts of 30 mph to 40 mph were predicted to hit the island Monday, especially in the south, from Guayama to Ponce, the weather service said.
At least two bridges collapsed after the Category 1 hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, one in the city of Utuado and another in Arecibo.
Nearly 66% of all water service customers, more than 830,000, had not received service late Monday morning, according to the government PREPS page.
Smaller airports in Mayagüez, Arecibo and Humacao are not yet operational, according to the PREPS page.
Puerto Rico’s main airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, Monday morning resumedbut some airlines have chosen to cancel some flights to and from Puerto Rico.
In Aguadilla, another small airport also resumed operations.