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Power out in Puerto Rico, ‘catastrophic’ damage in several areas from Fiona

By AFP
19 September 2022   |   10:23 am
Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico on Sunday, knocking out the US island territory's power while dumping torrential rain and wreaking catastrophic damage before spinning off towards the Dominican Republic.

A flooded road is seen during the passage of hurricane Fiona in Villa Blanca, Puerto Rico, on September 18, 2022. – Fiona touched Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. local time (7:20 GMT), according to information from the United States National Hurricane Center (NHC), leaving a general blackout and rivers overflowing. (Photo by Jose Rodriguez / AFP)

Hurricane Fiona smashed into Puerto Rico on Sunday, knocking out the US island territory’s power while dumping torrential rain and wreaking catastrophic damage before spinning off towards the Dominican Republic.

Landslides, blocked roads, fallen trees and power lines, as well as a collapsed bridge in the town of Utuado in the central mountainous region, were among the destruction already levied by Fiona, Governor Pedro Pierluisi told an evening press conference.

The entire territory of more than three million people lost power as the hurricane neared, with Pierluisi reporting the electrical system out of service.

Although the hurricane’s eye is now off the territory’s coast, destructive rain and devastating flash floods are expected to buffet the islands overnight before hitting the Dominican Republic on Monday.

As of 0600 GMT, Fiona was carrying sustained maximum winds of 85 miles (137 kilometers) per hour toward the southeastern coast of the Dominican Republic, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said in its latest advisory.

Continued rainfall would “produce catastrophic life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding” as well as “mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain” across Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican, the NHC said.

Fiona will go down as a “catastrophic event due to the impacts of flooding” in Puerto Rico’s central mountainous region, east and south, Pierluisi tweeted, adding that 9-13 inches (23-33 centimeters) of rain had fallen in just five hours.

The hurricane has also left around 196,000 people without drinking water as a result of power outages and flooded rivers, officials said.

Ahead of Fiona’s arrival in the Dominican Republic, President Luis Abinader suspended work on Monday.

The storm made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon as a Category One hurricane, at the lowest end of the five-tier Saffier-Simpson scale.

Fiona is expected to grow stronger, turning into a “major hurricane” before it heads north into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean, according to the NHC.

– ‘Extremely delicate’ –
In the town of Utuado, one family saw the zinc roof of their house — already replaced after 2017’s Hurricane Maria — torn off yet again, according to local media.

“This is an extremely delicate and sad situation. The damage we are seeing is catastrophic in several areas,” Pierluisi told reporters at the Sunday press conference.

“The entire island is experiencing a large accumulation of rain. Multiple cases of severe damage have been reported in many towns.”

The storm has caused one fatality — a man who was killed after his house was swept away by flooding in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe when Fiona was still classified as a tropical storm.

Utuado resident Fernando Vera told US broadcaster NPR that his family has never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria.

“We still struggle from the consequences of Maria and it’s kind of difficult knowing we’re going to probably have to start over again,” he said.

US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on Sunday, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance.

The NHC also said tropical storm conditions are expected in the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas by late Monday or early Tuesday.

– ‘Stay in their homes’ –
Puerto Ricans were advised “to stay in their homes or seek refuge if they need it,” Pierluisi told reporters.

The island — which has suffered from major infrastructure problems for years — was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, devastating its electrical grid.

The grid was privatized in June 2021 in an effort to resolve the problem of blackouts, but the issue persisted, and the entire island lost power earlier this year.

The former Spanish colony became a US territory in the late 19th century before gaining the status of associated free state in 1950.

After years of financial woes and recession, the island in 2017 was declared the largest bankruptcy ever by a local US administration. Later that year, two hurricanes added to the misery and sparked a feud between San Juan and Washington.

Then-president Donald Trump’s administration was widely accused of failing to provide sufficient federal aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck.

Footage of him tossing paper towels to survivors during a visit drew criticism, and Trump later claimed the storm’s death toll had been inflated by Democrats to “make me look as bad as possible.”

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