Sat. Oct 1st, 2022

Hurricane Fiona slammed into the Dominican Republic on Monday after knocking out the power grid and triggering flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was “catastrophic.”

No deaths were reported, but authorities in the US territory said it was too early to assess damage from the storm, which was still forecast to bring heavy rains across Puerto Rico on Monday.

Up to 30 inches (76 centimeters) is forecast for southern Puerto Rico.

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Hurricane Fiona is ravaging Puerto Rico, triggering landslides, power outages

“It’s important for people to understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.

He said flooding had reached “historic levels” and authorities had evacuated or rescued hundreds of people across the island.

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“The damage we are seeing is catastrophic,” said Governor Pedro Pierluisi.

Before dawn on Monday, authorities traveled by boat through the flooded streets of the northern coastal city of Catano and warned people over a megaphone that the pumps had collapsed and urged them to evacuate as soon as possible.

Brown water flooded streets, homes and even swallowed the runway of an airport in southern Puerto Rico.

Fiona also tore up asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was put in place by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 as a Category 4 storm.

The storm also took the roofs off several houses, including that of Nelson Cirino in the north coast town of Loiza.

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“I was sleeping and saw the corrugated metal fly away,” he said as he watched the rain soak his belongings and the wind whip his colorful curtains into the air.

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Ada Vivian Roman, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm knocked down trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta.

“I’m actually very concerned because it’s a really slow moving hurricane,” she said.

She said she’s also worried about whether the public transportation she relies on to get to her job at a public relations agency will work by the time she has to return to the office.

“But I know I’m privileged compared to other families who are practically losing their homes because they’re under water,” she said.

Fiona was centered 15 miles (25 kilometers) west-southwest of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 90 mph (150 km/h) Sunday night, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at eight mph (13 km/h).

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It struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.

As authorities continue to assess the damage from Fiona, many have wondered when power will be restored.

“It’s probably the biggest damage there is,” said Tomas Rivera, who co-owns a hotel in the southwestern coastal town of El Combate.

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On Monday, authorities announced that power had been restored to 100,000 customers on the island of 3.2 million people.

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

The power outages caused by Hurricane Maria were blamed for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the steamy aftermath of the storm, and power was not restored in some neighborhoods until a year later. Maria was a devastating Category 4 storm that hit on September 20, 2017.

Luma, a company that manages electricity transmission and distribution, said bad weather conditions, including 80 mph winds, downed power lines on Sunday, leading to an “island-wide blackout.”

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Health centers were running on generators – and some of them failed. Health Minister Carlos Mellado said crews rushed to repair generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.

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More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp roof and infrastructure remains weak, including the electricity grid. Outages are still common, and reconstruction has only recently begun.

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

The storm hit cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have not yet fully recovered from a series of strong earthquakes that began in late 2019.

More than 1,000 people with about 80 pets sought refuge across the island by Sunday evening, most of them on the south coast.

Fiona was forecast to hit the Dominican Republic early Monday, then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. On Tuesday, it could threaten the southernmost part of the Bahamas.

A hurricane warning has been issued for the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Cauced to Cabo Frances Vieja, and for Turks and Caicos.

Fiona previously ravaged the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.

© 2022 The Canadian Press

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