Fiona slams Dominican Republic after pounding Puerto Rico
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico - Hurricane Fiona roared over the Dominican Republic on Monday, a day after knocking out power to all of Puerto Rico and causing damage the governor described as “catastrophic.” Many people were also left without water service.
The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island still have blue tarps for a roof.
The wind and water from Fiona stripped the pavement from roads, tore off roofs and sent torrents pouring into homes. The storm also took out a bridge and flooded an airport runway.
Authorities reported no deaths directly from Fiona, but Puerto Rico officials said it was too early to know the full scope of damage. The storm was still expected to unleash torrential rain across the U.S. territory.
Officials reported one death associated with the blackout — a 70-year-old man was burned to death when he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declined to say how long it would take to fully restore electricity, but said for most customers, “it’s a question of days”
The island's National Weather Service office said flash flooding was occurring in south-central parts of Puerto Rico and tweeted, “MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND IMMEDIATELY!”
Up to 22 inches (56 centimeters) of rain fell in some areas of Puerto Rico and forecasters said another 4 to 8 inches could fall as the storm moves away, with even more possible in some places.
Rain totals of up to 15 inches (38 centimeters) were projected for the eastern Dominican Republic, where authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work.
“It’s important people understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a weather service meteorologist in San Juan.
He said flooding reached “historic levels,” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across Puerto Rico.
“The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic,” Pierluisi said.
Water service was cut to more than 837,000 customers — two thirds of the total on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
Before dawn Monday, authorities in a boat navigated the flooded streets of the north coast town of Catano and used a megaphone to alert people that the pumps had collapsed, urging them to evacuate as soon as possible.
Authorities said at least 1,300 people spent the night in shelters across the island.
Brown water rushed through streets, into homes and covered a runway in southern Puerto Rico.
The system also ripped asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police said was installed by the National Guard after Maria hit as a Category 4 storm.
Fiona also tore the roofs off homes, including that of Nelson Cirino in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was sleeping and saw when the corrugated metal flew off,” he said as he watched rain drench his belongings and wind whip his colorful curtains into the air.
On Monday morning, Fiona was centered about 10 miles (15 kilometers) southeast of Samana in the Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph), according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).
Tropical storm-force winds extended for 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center.
The storm was expected to move into the Atlantic in the afternoon and pass close to the Turks and Caicos islands on Tuesday. It could draw near Bermuda as a major hurricane late Thursday or on Friday, forecasters said.
Authorities announced Monday that power had been returned to 100,000 customers on the island of 3.2 million people, but power distribution company Luma said it could take days to fully restore service.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency as the eye of the storm approached the island’s southwest corner.
Puerto Rico's health centers were running on generators, and some of those failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floodwaters washed his home away, officials said.
The system hit Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.