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Puerto Rico reels from Fiona as hurricane plows into Dominican Republic

“It destroyed everything,” a Dominican man told Reuters. “Everything has been affected. It all has to be rebuilt, all this.”
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Puerto Rico was reeling Monday after Hurricane Fiona dumped more than 2 feet of rain on the island, killing at least one person and leaving most of it without power.

Fiona plowed into the neighboring Dominican Republic as a Category 1 storm, prompting warnings of flash flooding and forecasts of up to 20 inches of rain in the country's eastern section, the National Hurricane Center said.

National Guard troops carried out hundreds of rescues, and about 1,500 people had been evacuated to shelters and safer ground, The Associated Press reported.

Images of the Dominican Republic posted on social media showed downed trees, devastated homes and a collapsed bridge.

"It destroyed everything," a resident told Reuters. "Everything has been affected. It all has to be rebuilt, all this.”

The storm was forecast to strengthen to a major hurricane later Monday or Tuesday, with winds topping 111 mph, on its way toward the Turks and Caicos Islands, the hurricane center said.

Earlier Monday, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told reporters that the U.S. territory needs help with first responders and that New York Gov. Kathy Hochul has already vowed to send 100 to assist.

Puerto Rico has four warehouses stocked with enough food and water to last during the emergency response phase, Pierluisi said, emphasizing that humanitarian aid may be needed once the island enters its recovery stage.

The governor hopes to have an initial estimate of damage after tropical storm rains dissipate Tuesday, a process necessary for Puerto Rico to request a formal disaster declaration that would free additional resources to help it with recovery efforts, he said.

President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency on the island Sunday, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to step in with response resources.

Most of Puerto Rico’s nearly 1.5 million power customers remain without electricity. By Monday afternoon, about 100,000 customers had had their electricity restored, according to Luma Energy, the company in charge of power transmission and distribution in Puerto Rico.

A 58-year-old man was found dead Monday afternoon after he was dragged by currents from the river La Plata in the town of Comerío, Telemundo Puerto Rico reported.

Pierluisi said two other people who died in shelters are believed to have passed away from natural causes; however, officials are waiting for the Institute of Forensic Sciences to confirm that.

A 70-year-old man from the town of Arecibo died from fire-related injuries after a generator he was using exploded. Emergency personnel said the man tried to refuel his generator while it was still on, causing the machine to explode.

Heavy rain left an “unprecedented accumulation of water in some areas,” Pierluisi said; the most affected are towns in the mountainous region in the center of the island, as well as in the southern region.

'It's a disaster'

In the southern town of Ponce, a family lost everything after floodwaters covered their home and hurricane winds blew the roof off.

“As you can see, it's a disaster," Carlos Jimenez, who lives in the home, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish. "I know I'll get up from this one, but it's tough."

Catastrophic flooding battered much of Puerto Rico after Fiona made landfall about 3:20 p.m. Sunday. An islandwide blackout was reported about an hour earlier as the hurricane's eye neared Puerto Rico’s southwestern coast.

The devastation and the failure of the power grid echo the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which made landfall five years ago this month as the deadliest natural disaster on U.S. territory in 100 years.

Jayson Martínez, the mayor of the southwestern town of Lajas, estimated that it could take two to three months to bring power back to his town judging by the damage he saw Monday.

"I do hope I'm wrong. I worry that we will have more blue tarps when we still have many blue tarps left," Martínez, a former power line worker, told Telemundo Puerto Rico in Spanish, a reference to the destroyed homes that have not been rebuilt since Maria in 2017.

On Monday, the National Weather Service in San Juan urged people to “move to high ground immediately” because of flash flooding, which is expected to worsen with the pounding rain.

Bands of showers and gusty winds of 30 mph to 40 mph were forecast to bear down on the island Monday, especially in the south, from Guayama to Ponce, the weather service said.

At least two bridges collapsed after the Category 1 hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico, one in the town of Utuado and another one in Arecibo.

Almost 66% of all water service customers, over 830,000 had not had service restored by late Monday morning, according to the government’s PREPS page.

People inside a house await rescue from the floods caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 18, 2022.
People in a house in Cayey, Puerto Rico, await rescue Sunday from the floods caused by Hurricane Fiona.Stephanie Rojas / AP

Mercedita International Airport in Ponce remained closed because of flooding. Muddy waters created mudslides in some neighborhoods, forcing some people to cling to poles in waist-deep water.

Smaller airports in Mayagüez, Arecibo and Humacao are not yet operating, according to the PREPS page.

Puerto Rico's main airport, Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, resumed operations Monday morning, but some airlines opted to cancel some flights in and out of Puerto Rico.

In Aguadilla, another small airport resumed operations, as well.