SAN JUAN – Hurricane Fiona strengthened to a Category 4 storm on Wednesday after ravaging Puerto Rico, then slammed into the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was forecast to pass Bermuda later this week.
The storm was blamed for directly causing at least four deaths during its march through the Caribbean, where winds and torrential rain in Puerto Rico left most people in the US territory without power or water. Hundreds of thousands of people have scraped mud from their homes after what authorities have described as “historic” flooding.
Power company officials initially said it would take several days to fully restore power, but then backed off late Tuesday night. Only 26% had power Wednesday morning, three days after it hit the island.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generating facilities across the island. We want to make it very clear that recovery and power restoration efforts are ongoing and are being impacted by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, worn equipment and downed lines,” said Luma, a power transmission and distribution company.
The sound of generators could be heard throughout the territory, people became more and more indignant. Some were still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm five years ago, killing an estimated 2,975 people.
Luis Noguera, who was helping clear a landslide in the central mountain town of Caye, said Maria had left him without electricity for a year. Officials themselves announced the full restoration of service only 11 months after Maria hit.
“We paid the electrician out of our own pocket to hook us up,” he recalled, adding that he didn’t think the government would help again after Fiona.
Long lines were reported at several gas stations across Puerto Rico, and some pulled off the main highway to collect water from the creek.
“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but it was worse,” said Gerardo Rodríguez, who lives in the southern coastal city of Salinas.
Parts of the island received more than 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain, with more falling on Tuesday.
By Tuesday evening, authorities said they had restored power to more than 380,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Water was initially shut off for most of the island’s users due to power outages and murky water at filtration plants, but about 60% had service Wednesday morning.
The National Weather Service in San Juan issued a heat advisory for several cities on Wednesday as most people on the island of 3.2 million remain without power.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the agency announced it was sending hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency on the island and has sent several teams to the island.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported minimal damage and no deaths, despite the storm passing Tuesday morning near Grand Turk, the British territory’s small capital island.
The government imposed a curfew and urged people to leave flood-prone areas.
“The Turks and Caicos have had a phenomenal experience in the last 24 hours,” said Deputy Governor Anya Williams. “It definitely came with its fair share of challenges.”
The US National Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) on Wednesday and was centered about 675 miles (1,090 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, heading north from at a speed of 8 miles per hour (13 kilometers per hour).
It is likely to approach Bermuda late Thursday or Friday, and then move toward Atlantic Canada late Friday.
The storm killed one person in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe, another person in Puerto Rico who was swept away by an overflowing river, and two people in the Dominican Republic, one killed by a falling tree and the other by a downed power pole.
Puerto Rico reported two other blackout deaths: a 70-year-old man burned to death after trying to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, and a 78-year-old man who police say inhaled toxic fumes from its generator.
Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.
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