HAVANA (AP) — Hurricane Fiona slammed into the Dominican Republic on Monday after damaging the power grid and causing flooding and landslides in Puerto Rico, where the governor said the damage was “catastrophic.”
No deaths were reported, but officials in the US territory said it was too early to assess damage from the storm, which was still forecast to unleash heavy rain on Puerto Rico on Monday.
Up to 30 inches were forecast for eastern and southern areas of Puerto Rico.
“It’s important for people to understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan.
He said flooding had reached “historic levels” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across the island.
“The damage we are seeing is catastrophic,” Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.
Brown water rushed through streets, into homes and even engulfed an airport in southern Puerto Rico.
Fiona also tore up asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado, which police said was deployed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017 as a Category 4 storm.
The storm also tore off the roofs of several houses, including that of Nelson Chirino in the northern coastal town of Loiza.
“I was asleep and saw when the corrugated metal flew out,” he said as he watched the rain soak his belongings.
Ada Vivian Roman, a 21-year-old photography student, said the storm knocked down trees and fences in her hometown of Toa Alta.
“I’m actually very worried because it’s a really slow-moving hurricane,” she said.
She said she also worries about whether the public transportation she relies on to get to her job at a public relations agency will be running by the time she has to return to the office.
“But I know I’m privileged compared to other families who are effectively losing their homes because they’re under water,” she said.
Fiona was centered 50 miles southeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph Sunday evening, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving northwest at 9 mph.
It struck on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
As authorities continue to assess the damage from Fiona, many have wondered when power will be restored.
“This is probably the biggest damage there is,” said Thomas Rivera, who co-owns a hotel in the southwestern coastal town of El Combate.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for the US territory as the eye of the storm approached the southwest corner of the island.
Power outages caused by Hurricane Maria were blamed for the deaths of nearly 3,000 people in the storm’s scorching aftermath, with power restored to some neighborhoods only a year later. Maria was a devastating Category 4 storm that made landfall on September 20, 2017.
Luma, the company that manages power transmission and distribution, said bad weather, including 80 mph winds, downed transmission lines Sunday, causing an “island-wide blackout.”
Health centers were running on generators – and some of them were damaged. Health Minister Carlos Melado said teams rushed to repair generators at the Complex Oncology Center, where several patients had to be evacuated.
More than 3,000 homes still have only a blue tarp roof and infrastructure remains weak, including the electricity grid. Disruptions remain common, and reconstruction has only recently begun.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to last and what needs are we going to face?'” said Danny Hernandez, who works in the capital of San Juan, but plans to ride out the storm with his parents and family in the western city of Mayaguez.
The storm battered towns and cities along Puerto Rico’s southern coast, which have yet to fully recover from a series of strong earthquakes that began in late 2019.
More than 1,000 people with about 80 pets had sought shelter across the island by Sunday evening, most of them on the south coast.
Fiona was forecast to cross the Dominican Republic early Monday, then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far southern tip of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
Hurricane warnings were issued for the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo and for the Turks and Caicos.
Fiona earlier hit the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.