(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Fiona strengthened to a Category 3 storm Tuesday after leaving the entire island of Puerto Rico without power.
The storm system is currently carrying sustained winds of 115 mph as it moves northwest near Turks and Caicos. It could become a Category 4 storm as it closes in on Bermuda later in the week.
Fiona made a second landfall Monday in the Dominican Republic near Boca de Yuma on the eastern side of the island with sustained winds of 90 mph and even higher gusts.
On Monday, the hurricane moved over the Dominican Republic with damaging winds and rain, causing more flash flooding and hurricane warnings in the region.
At least one person was killed in Puerto Rico as the then-Category 1 storm slammed the island, officials announced Monday.
The Arecibo resident was attempting to fill his generator with gasoline while it was on, causing an ignition, officials said.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi warned residents that more rain is expected on the island through Tuesday evening.
“We are going through a difficult moment but our people are strong and very generous,” he said during a press conference.
At least two more people died in a shelter due to natural causes, but those have not been labeled as storm-related deaths, Pierluisi said.
Restoring power in Puerto Rico
LUMA Energy said that only 100,000 out of 1.5 million clients have power on the island.
The governor said Monday the goal is for “a large number of LUMA customers” to have power “in a matter of days.” However, LUMA said in a statement Sunday that “full power restoration could take several days.”
Hospitals on the island are currently operating on generators, according to the governor.
Only 34% of households on the island have potable water after rivers grew and heavy rainfall impacted the system — meaning more than 834,000 people are without drinking water, the governor said Monday.
More than 1,000 people have been rescued by authorities, including a woman rescued Sunday who was stuck in a tree for seven hours after trying to look at the damage, officials said.
Heavy rainfall causes flooding across the island
Fiona strengthened to a hurricane from a tropical storm Sunday morning. The National Hurricane Center said Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sunday at 3:20 p.m. ET, dumping torrential rain on much of the island.
Some regions measured up to 25 inches of rain by 8 a.m. Monday, and flash flood warnings remain in effect for much of the island, according to the National Hurricane Center.
A flash flood emergency was issued overnight due to many rivers rising very quickly out of their banks. The Rio Grande de Arecido river rose 13 feet in one hour.
A bridge near Utuado, a town in the central mountainous region of the island, has collapsed, cutting off the communities of Salto Arriba and Guaonico, local newspaper El Vocero de Puerto Rico reported.
The portion of the bridge that collapsed is on Highway 123, a branch of Highway 10, which serves as a link between both roads and is one of the accesses to the University of Puerto Rico at Utuado campus, according to El Vocero.
The bridge, installed by the National Guard following Hurricane Maria, cost about $3 million to construct, the newspaper reported.
The rain saturated areas in the southeastern part of Puerto Rico, along with the mountainous areas, where potential mudslides and winds could cause the most damage.
Prior to landfall, Pierluisi said Puerto Rico was prepared as it could be, with enough resources and manpower in place to respond — adding that the island learned its lessons from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
“We’re much in a much better position than we were five years ago,” he said.
Where Fiona heads next
After passing through the Caribbean, the storm system will head northward, passing just east of Turks and Caicos before tracking near Bermuda, forecasts show. The storm system will continue to gradually strengthen in the coming days as it moves north and then northeast this week.
Forecasts place Fiona near Turks and Caicos Monday night into Tuesday morning as a strong Category 2 hurricane with winds near 100 mph.
Tremendous rainfall is forecast, with much of the Dominican Republic expected to receive up to 10 inches and some regions in Turks and Caicos expected to see 8 inches of rain.
On Tuesday morning, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic will continue to see gradually improving conditions, however, lingering showers and thunderstorms will still be likely, potentially impacting initial cleanup and recovery efforts.
By mid-week, Fiona is forecast to become the first major hurricane of 2022 Atlantic season, with winds of up to 125 mph.
Winds could be as high as 125 mph as the storm passes near Bermuda, bringing strong winds, heavy rain and storm surge. Some models show the storm hitting Bermuda directly on Friday.
While it won’t make landfall in the U.S., the hurricane will affect the entire East Coast with huge waves, rip currents and coastal flooding from Florida to Maine as it moves northward.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, which allows federal agencies to coordinate all relief efforts.
Biden’s decision has the “purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 78 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” the White House said in a statement.
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