The Eye of Hurricane Fiona is closing in on battered, powerless Puerto Rico

The Eye of Hurricane Fiona is closing in on battered, powerless Puerto Rico

HAVANA (AP) – The eye of newly formed Hurricane Fiona approached the southern coast of Puerto Rico on Sunday – already causing power outages across the island and threatening to dump “historic” levels of rain.

Forecasters said the downpour was expected to trigger mudslides and catastrophic flooding, with up to 25 inches (64 cm) possible in isolated areas.

“It’s time to take action and be concerned,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.

Fiona was centered 40 kilometers southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico on Sunday morning and its clouds covered the entire island. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 km/h).

Tropical-storm-force winds extended up to 140 miles (220 kilometers) from Fiona’s center.

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.

Luma, the company that operates the transmission and distribution of electricity, said bad weather, including 80 mph winds, had disrupted transmission lines, leading to an “island-wide blackout.”

“The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and hinder the ability to assess the overall situation,” he said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

The health centers were running on generators — and some of them had failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said crews are working to repair generators as soon as possible at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

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 power grid and causing nearly 3,000 deaths.

More than 3,000 houses still have only a blue tarp roof and infrastructure remains weak.

Luma, the company that operates the transmission and distribution of electricity, said bad weather, including 80 mph winds, had disrupted transmission lines, leading to an “island-wide blackout.”

“The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and hinder the ability to assess the overall situation,” he said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

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

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

“After Maria, we all experienced scarcity to some degree,” he said.

The storm was forecast to hit cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have yet to fully recover from a series of powerful earthquakes that began in late 2019.

Officials said several roads were closed across the island as trees and small landslides blocked access.

More than 640 people with about 70 pets had sought shelter across the island by Saturday night, the majority on the south coast.

Puerto Rico’s power grid was devastated by Hurricane Maria and remains fragile, with reconstruction only recently beginning. Holidays are a daily occurrence.

In the southwestern town of El Combate, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but worried about the “enormous” 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 sensed what’s coming and are getting ready.”

Rivera said his staff brought bedridden family members to the hotel, where it has been stocked with diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given how slow the government was to respond after Hurricane Maria.

“What we have done is prepared 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 northern coastal town of Loiza after buying lots of food and water.

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

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

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

Fiona was forecast to dump 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 cm) of rain on eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 25 inches (64 cm) in isolated spots. Morales noted that Hurricane Maria in 2017 had dumped 40 inches (102 centimeters).

The National Weather Service warned late Saturday that the Blanco River in the southeastern coastal city of Naguabo had already overflowed its banks and urged people living nearby to move immediately.

Pierluigi announced on Sunday that public schools and government offices would remain closed on Monday.

Fiona was forecast to sweep the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the southern tip of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

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

Fiona had previously lashed the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods swept 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 downed trees, but said its international airport would reopen Sunday afternoon. Dozens of customers were still without power or water, according to the Caribbean Disaster Management Agency.

In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeline was forecast to bring heavy rain and flooding to parts of southwestern Mexico. The storm was centered about 155 miles (245 kilometers) south-southwest of Cabo Corrientes on Sunday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 75 km/h.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.