Hurricane Fiona hits Puerto Rico

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Fiona was forecast to swipe the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos.
Fiona was forecast to swipe the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos. Photo Credit: NOAA

HAVANA (AP) -- Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico's southwest coast on Sunday as it unleashed landslides, knocked the power grid out and ripped up asphalt from roads and flung the pieces around.

Forecasters said the storm would cause massive flooding and threatened to dump historic levels of rain, with up to 30 inches possible in eastern and southern Puerto Rico.

"The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic," said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

"I urge people to stay in their homes," said William Miranda Torres, mayor of the northern town of Caguas, where at least one large landslide was reported, with water rushing down a big slab of broken asphalt and into a gully.

The storm also washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix and Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas were closed on Sunday and were scheduled to stay closed through 12 p.m. on Monday. All USVI seaports were closed by the U.S. Coast Guard at 10 p.m. on Friday and remain closed until further notice. 

Fiona struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit Puerto Rico 33 years ago as a Category 3 storm.

The storm's clouds covered the entire island and tropical storm-force winds extended as far as 140 miles from Fiona's center.

U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the U.S. territory as the eye of the storm approached the island's southwest corner.

Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including winds of 80 mph, had disrupted transmission lines, leading to "a blackout on all the island."

"Current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and are hindering out capacity to evaluate the complete situation," it said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

Fiona hit just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island's power grid and causing nearly 3,000 deaths. More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp as a roof, and infrastructure remains weak. Puerto Rico's power grid was razed by Hurricane Maria and remains frail, with reconstruction starting only recently. Outages are a daily occurrence.

Fiona was forecast to swipe 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 far southern end of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

A hurricane warning was posted for the Dominican Republic's eastern coast from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.

Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed his home away, 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 announced its international airport would reopen on Sunday afternoon. Dozens of customers were still without power or water, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

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