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Home World News Washington Post World News Hurricane Fiona rages through powerless Puerto Rico

Hurricane Fiona rages through powerless Puerto Rico


HAVANA — Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico’s southwest coast on Sunday when it caused landslides, knocked out the electrical grid and ripped asphalt off roads and scattered pieces.

Forecasters said the storm would cause catastrophic flooding and threatened to dump “historic” rainfall levels, with up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) possibly in isolated areas.

“I urge people to stay in their homes,” said William Miranda Torres, mayor of the northern city of Caguas, where at least one major landslide was reported in which water spilled over a large slab of broken asphalt into a trench.

The storm also washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria struck in 2017.

Fiona struck about 15 miles southeast of Mayaguez with maximum sustained winds of 140 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 9 mph (15 kph).

Fiona struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which struck Puerto Rico as a Category 3 storm 33 years ago.

The storm clouds covered the entire island and tropical storm winds extended up to 220 kilometers from the center of Fiona.

US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency on US territory as the eye of the storm approached the southwest corner of the island.

Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including 80 mph winds, had disrupted transmission lines, leading to “an island-wide power outage.”

“Current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and hamper the ability to evaluate the full situation,” it said, adding it could take several days to fully restore power.

Health centers ran on generators – and some of them had failed. Secretary of Health Carlos Mellado said crews were working to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center as quickly as possible.

Fiona struck just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on September 20, 2017, destroying the island’s electrical grid, killing nearly 3,000.

More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp for their roof and the infrastructure remains weak.

“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to take and what needs might we face?'” said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital of San Juan, but planned to weather the storm with his parents and family in the western city of Mayaguez.

He said the atmosphere in the supermarket was bleak as he and others stocked up before the storm hit.

“After Maria, we’ve all dealt with scarcity to some degree,” he said.

The storm would ravage towns and villages along Puerto Rico’s southern coast, which have not yet fully recovered from a series of strong earthquakes at the end of 2019.

Officials reported several road closures across the island as trees and minor landslides blocked access.

More than 780 people with some 80 pets had sought shelter all over the island on Saturday night, most of them on the south coast.

Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria and remains fragile, with reconstruction only recently beginning. Disruptions are the order of the day.

In the southwestern town of El Combate, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but concerned about the “huge” amount of rain he expected. He noted that a nearby wildlife sanctuary was eerily quiet.

“There are thousands of birds here and they are nowhere to be seen,” he said. “Even the birds have realized what’s to come, and they’re preparing.”

Rivera said his workers brought bedridden relatives to the hotel, where he stocked up on diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given the government’s slow response to Hurricane Maria.

“What we’ve done is we’ve prepared ourselves to depend as little as possible on the central government,” he said.

It’s a sentiment shared by 70-year-old Ana Córdova, who arrived on Saturday at a shelter in the north coastal town of Loiza after buying loads of food and water.

“I don’t trust them,” she said, referring to the government. “I lost confidence after what happened after Hurricane Maria.”

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi activated the National Guard as the sixth storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approached.

“What worries me most is the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Fiona was predicted to drop 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 centimeters) of rain over eastern and south Puerto Rico, with as much as 25 inches (64 centimeters) in isolated spots. Morales noted that Hurricane Maria had let loose 40 inches (102 centimeters) in 2017.

Pierluisi announced on Sunday that public schools and government agencies will remain closed on Monday.

Fiona was set to flood the Dominican Republic and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands on Monday with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far south of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the eastern coast of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.

Fiona has previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

St. Kitts and Nevis also reported flooding and fallen trees, but announced the international airport would reopen on Sunday afternoon. Dozens of customers were still without power or water, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeline was forecast to cause heavy rainfall and flooding in parts of southwestern Mexico. The storm was centered about 155 miles (245 kilometers) southwest of Cabo Corrientes Sunday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph).

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