SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/Santo Domingo, Sept. 19 (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona swept north on Monday evening after bringing torrential rains and strong winds to the Dominican Republic and causing a total power outage in neighboring Puerto Rico, where at least two people were killed. died.
The Category 2 hurricane is likely to become a Category 3 as it moves across warm Caribbean waters toward the Turks and Caicos Islands. Fiona was upgraded to a Category 2 by the National Hurricane Center Monday night with winds of 105 mph (169 kph).
On Tuesday, downtown Fiona is expected to pass near or east of the archipelago, which is subject to a current hurricane warning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Tropical storm conditions were also expected in the Bahamas.
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After shelling Puerto Rico, Fiona arrived in the Dominican Republic near Boca Yuma at 3:30 a.m. local time, according to the NHC. The center of the storm reached the north coast of Hispaniola before noon.
It is the first hurricane to cause a direct hit on the Dominican Republic since Jeanne caused serious damage in the east of the country in September 2004.
Fiona caused severe flooding, isolating several villages and leaving some 800 evacuees and more than 11,000 people without power in the east of the country.
“The damage is significant,” said Dominican Republic president Luis Abinader. He plans to declare a state of disaster in the provinces of La Altagracia, where the famous resort of Punta Cana is located, El Seibo and Hato Mayor.
In La Altagracia, in the far east of the country, where the hurricane made landfall Monday morning, the Yuma River overflow has damaged agricultural areas and left several towns isolated.
Electricity and water companies are working to restore facilities in the affected areas.
In Puerto Rico, an area of the United States, residents continued to experience high winds, frequent lightning and heavy rain.
Fiona made landfall there on Sunday afternoon and dropped up to 76.2cm of rain in some areas.
The storm comes five years after Puerto Rico was ravaged by Hurricane Maria, which caused the worst blackout in US history.
US President Joe Biden spoke to Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi on Monday and promised to send more support personnel to the island in the coming days.
“The president said he will keep the federal team working to make it happen,” the White House said.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator Deanne Criswell will travel there on Tuesday.
Jeannette Rivera, 54, a public relations officer in Orlando, Florida, said she hadn’t spoken to her family since a spotty phone call early Sunday.
She fears for the safety of her parents and the health of her 84-year-old father, who had just contracted COVID-19 and had a fever.
“My concern is that if they need help, there is no way to communicate,” Rivera said.
According to Poweroutage.us, nearly 90% of Puerto Rico was without power on Monday. Officials said it would take days to reconnect the entire island of 3.3 million people.
Many roads were impassable due to fallen trees and mudslides. Images on social media showed submerged cars, people wading in medium-deep water and lifeboats drifting through flooded streets. Only 30% of drinking water customers have service.
Crews have rescued some 400 people from flooding in Salinas, a southern town where rain has turned to drizzle. The southern and southeastern regions were the hardest hit.
Puerto Rico’s electrical grid remains fragile despite emergency repairs after Maria, according to Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank.
Maria, a Category 5 storm in 2017 that killed more than 3,000 people, left 1.5 million customers without electricity and shut down 80% of power lines. Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live under makeshift tarpaulin roofs.
As the National Weather Service lifted the hurricane warning for Puerto Rico Monday, officials warned that rain tires could track the storm system for hundreds of miles.
A 70-year-old man in the northern city of Arecibo is the first known victim in Puerto Rico. He was trying to start his electrical generator when the machine exploded, killing him instantly, police said.
A second man drowned in the afternoon. Police said an 88-year-old woman died of a heart attack at a shelter.
Hundreds of aid workers assisted in recovery after Biden declared a state of emergency for the island, allowing FEMA to coordinate disaster response and take protective measures.
Pierluisi said the government’s response has been much more efficient than during Hurricane Maria, which became highly politicized as former President Donald Trump’s administration was criticized for being too slow in providing disaster relief. Trump refuted that.
The government has not estimated the damage as it is still in the response period, although the governor said the damage was in the millions.
For most of the five years since Maria struck Puerto Rico, the debt-laden government and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority had gone bankrupt and the island’s finances were managed by a federally appointed oversight board.
(This story corrects the year Hurricane Jeanne hit the Dominican Republic to 2004, not 2018, in 5th paragraph)
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Reporting by Ivelisse Riveria in San Juan and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Rich McKay, Trevor Hunnicutt, Mica Rosenberg, Christian Plumb and Tim Reid; Writing by Tyler Clifford and Costas Pitas; Editing by Frank McGurty, Mark Porter, Richard Chang and Leslie Adler
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