HAVANA — Fiona strengthened into a hurricane Sunday as it bore down on Puerto Rico, where people braced for severe wind and torrential rains.
Forecasters said “historic” levels of rain were expected to produce landslides and heavy flooding, with up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) forecast in isolated areas.
“It’s time to take action and be concerned,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.
Fiona was approximately 50 miles (80km) from Ponce, Puerto Rico. The maximum sustained winds were 80 mph (130 km/h), and the vehicle was moving at 8 mph (11.3 kph).
Anxiety ran high across the island with Fiona due just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that hit on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power grid and causing nearly 3,000 deaths.
More than 3000 homes have no roof but a blue roofing tarp. The infrastructure in place is still weak.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress of, ‘What is going to happen, how long is it going to last 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 town of Mayaguez.
According to him, the mood was dark at the supermarket because he had stocked up on food before the storm.
“After Maria, we all experienced scarcity to some extent,” he said.
The storm was forecast to pummel cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have not yet fully recovered from a string of strong earthquakes that hit the region starting in late 2019.
There were numerous road closures throughout the island, due to small landslides and trees.
By Saturday night, more than 100 had fled the island seeking shelter. Most of these people were in Guayanilla on the coast.
Numerous Puerto Ricans are also concerned about blackouts. Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, warned of “widespread service interruptions.” As of Sunday morning more than 320,000 customers were without power.
Puerto Rico’s power grid was razed by Hurricane Maria and remains frail, with reconstruction starting only recently. It is a common occurrence for outages to occur every day.
In the southwest town of El Combate, which is in the storm’s path, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but worried about the “enormous” amount of rain he expected. A nearby refuge for wildlife was unusually quiet, he said.
“There are thousands of birds here, and they are nowhere to be seen,” he said. “Even the birds have realized what is coming, and they’re preparing.”
Rivera claimed that Rivera’s employees had brought in their sick relatives and bought fuel, food and water to stock up after Maria.
“What we’ve done is 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 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 trust after what happened after Hurricane Maria.”
Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, said he was ready to declare a state of emergency if needed and activated the National Guard as the Atlantic hurricane season’s sixth named storm approached.
“What worries me most is the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Fiona is expected to bring down 12-16 inches (30-41 centimeters), of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico. In isolated areas, Fiona could drop as high as 25inches (64 centimeters), of rain.
Late Saturday, the National Weather Service advised that the Blanco River near Naguabo in southeast coast town had exceeded its banks. They urged those living close to the river to evacuate immediately.
Pierluisi stated Sunday that government agencies as well as public schools would stay closed Monday.
Fiona is expected to sweep the Dominican Republic and northern Haiti on Monday. The Turks and Caicos Islands will be under threat from heavy rain. On Tuesday, it could be threatening the extreme southern part of the Bahamas.
A hurricane warning was posted for the Dominican Republic’s eastern coast from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.
Officials stated that Fiona was previously a storm in eastern Caribbean. One man died when floods swept away his home. Additionally, roads were damaged and trees uprooted. At least one bridge was also destroyed.
St. Kitts & Nevis reported also flooding and fallen trees. However, the international airport announced that it would be reopening on Sunday afternoon. The Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency reported that dozens of customers still had no power or water.
According to Tropical Storm Madeline, the east Pacific will see heavy rainfalls and flooding in parts of southwest Mexico. With maximum sustained winds at 45 mph (75 km/h), the storm was situated about 155 miles (245km) southwest of Cabo Corrientes, Sunday morning.
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