Puerto Rico reels from Fiona, with 1.3 million without power amid deluge, flash floods

Puerto Rico remains under tropical storm warning after Hurricane Fiona dumped more than 2 feet of rain this weekend.

More flooding and landslides are expected on Monday as intense rains are expected to continue through late Tuesday.

Since Puerto Rico is still in the emergency phase after Fiona, the island does not yet need humanitarian aid, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said in a news conference on Monday.

“We need help with first responders,” he said, adding that the New York government Kathy Hochul has already pledged to send 100 first responders to Puerto Rico.

Pierluisi said Puerto Rico has 4 warehouses with enough food and water to keep up with the emergency relief phase, emphasizing 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 request a formal disaster declaration that would release additional funds to help the island with recovery efforts, said he.

President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency on the island on Sunday, allowing FEMA to intervene with emergency resources.

Most of Puerto Rico’s nearly 1.5 million power customers are without electricity. On 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.

While government officials said no hurricane-related deaths were reported Monday morning, 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.

Pierluisi said two other people who died in shelters during the hurricane are believed to have died of natural causes; However, officials are waiting for the Institute of Forensic Sciences to confirm whether that is the case.

On Monday afternoon, a 58-year-old man was found dead after being swept by the currents of the La Plata River in the city of Comerío, Telemundo Puerto Rico reported.

Heavy rainfall caused an “unprecedented build-up of water in some areas”, but the most affected are towns in the mountainous area in the center of the island, as well as in the southern region.

In the southern city of Ponce, a family lost everything after flooding flooded its home and blown off its roof in hurricane winds.

“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 about 3:20 p.m. on Sunday. About an hour earlier, an island-wide power outage was reported as the eye of the hurricane approached Puerto Rico’s southwest coast.

The devastation and failure of the electrical grid mirrors the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall five years ago this month and was the deadliest natural disaster on U.S. soil in 100 years.

Jayson Martínez, mayor of the southwestern city of Lajas, estimates it could take two to three months to get his city back to power based on the damage he saw Monday.

“I really hope I’m wrong,” Martínez, a former powerline employee, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish. “I’m concerned that if we have a lot of blue tarps left, we’ll have more blue tarps,” he said of the destroyed homes that haven’t been rebuilt since Maria in 2017.

On Monday, the National Weather Service in San Juan urged locals to “go to higher ground immediately” due to ongoing flash flooding, expected to be exacerbated by the pouring rain.

Showers and wind gusts of 30 mph to 40 mph are forecast to hit the island Monday, especially in the south, from Guayama to Ponce, the weather service said.

At least two bridges have collapsed after the Category 1 hurricane devastated Puerto Rico, one in the city of Utuado and another in Arecibo.

According to the government’s PREPS page, nearly 66% of all water services customers, more than 830,000 customers, have not recovered their service as of late Monday.

People in a house await rescue from the flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, on September 18, 2022.
People at a home in Cayey await rescue from the flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona in Puerto Rico on Sunday.Stephanie Rojas / AP

The Mercedita . International Airport in Ponce remains closed due to flooding. Muddy waters in the region caused mudslides in some neighborhoods, forcing some people to cling to poles in medium-deep water.

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, resumed operations Monday morning, but some airlines have chosen to cancel some of their flights to and from Puerto Rico.

In Aguadilla, another small airport also resumed operations.

Monday morning, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic, last 35 miles southeast of Samana, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center.

The storm is expected to bring hurricane conditions to the Dominican Republic on Monday with a hurricane warning in effect from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo, as well as Turks and Caicos Islands. A tropical storm warning was in effect for Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra, and the north coast of the Dominican Republic and southeastern Bahamas.

Fiona is expected to continue northwest through Monday evening and will turn northwest on Tuesday and north on Wednesday, the Hurricane Center said.

The storm is expected to move across the eastern part of the Dominican Republic early Monday, with the center near or east of Turks and Caicos on Tuesday.

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