Fiona turned into a hurricane on Sunday as it slammed into Puerto Rico, where people braced for high winds and torrential rains.
Forecasters said “historic” rain levels are expected to produce landslides and heavy flooding, with up to 25 inches predicted in isolated areas.
“It’s time to act and worry,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.
Fiona was centered 80 kilometers south of Ponce, Puerto Rico on Sunday morning. It had maximum sustained winds of 80 mph (130 km/h) and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 km/h).
Anxiety raced across the island with Fiona just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that hit on September 20, 2017, knocking out the island’s power grid and causing nearly of 3,000 dead.
More than 3,000 houses still only have a blue tarp as a roof, and the infrastructure remains weak.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who’ve lived through Maria have this post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is this going to last and what needs could we to be confronted? said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to ride out the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.
He said the atmosphere was gloomy 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 expected to hit cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have yet to fully recover from a series of strong earthquakes that hit the region beginning in late 2019.
Authorities reported several road closures across the island as trees and small landslides blocked access.
More than 100 people had sought refuge across the island by Saturday night, the majority of them in the southern coastal town of Guayanilla.
Many Puerto Ricans were also concerned about power outages. Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, warned of “widespread service interruptions”. Sunday morning, more than 320,000 customers were without electricity.
Puerto Rico’s power grid was flattened by Hurricane Maria and remains fragile, with reconstruction having only recently begun. Breakdowns are daily.
In the southwestern town of El Combate in the storm’s path, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was prepared but worried about the “enormous” amount of rain he was expecting. was waiting. He noted that a nearby wildlife refuge was eerily quiet.
“There are thousands of birds here, and they are nowhere to be found,” he said. “Even the birds have realized what is coming, and they are getting ready.”
Rivera said his employees brought bedridden family members to the hotel, where he refueled with diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given how slowly the government reacted after Hurricane Maria.
“What we have done is prepare ourselves to be as little dependent on central government as possible,” he said.
It’s a sentiment shared by Ana Córdova, 70, who arrived at a shelter in the northern coastal town of Loiza on Saturday after buying plenty of food and water.
“I don’t trust them,” she said, referring to the government. “I lost confidence after what happened after Hurricane Maria.”
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he was ready to declare a state of emergency if necessary and activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season neared. .
“What worries me the most is the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales of the National Weather Service in San Juan.
Fiona was forecast to drop 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 centimeters) of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) in isolated spots.
The National Weather Service warned late Saturday that the Blanco River in the southeastern coastal town of Naguabo had already overshot its banks and urged people living nearby to move immediately.
Pierluisi announced on Sunday that public schools and government agencies would remain closed on Monday.
Fiona was expected to sweep across the Dominican Republic on Monday, then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands under threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far south 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 has already battered the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.
Saint Kitts and Nevis also reported flooding and downed trees, but said 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.
In the Eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeline was expected 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 45 mph (75 kph).