Caye, Puerto Rico (AFP) – Hurricane Fiona hit the Turks and Caicos Islands Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after ravaging Puerto Rico, with most people left without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to ferry survivors to safety.
The eye of the storm passed near Grand Turk Island, the capital of the tiny British territory, on Tuesday morning after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas. Storms can raise water levels there as much as 5 to 8 feet above normal, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
Late Tuesday afternoon, the storm was centered 75 miles (120 kilometers) north of North Caicos Island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.
Prime Minister Washington Messick urged people to evacuate. “Storms are unpredictable,” he said in a statement from London, where he attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. “So you should take every precaution to ensure your safety.”
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph), according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm was likely to intensify into a hurricane of Category 4 as it approaches Bermuda. Friday.
Rain still fell on parts of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, with the echoes of people sweeping, sweeping and spraying their homes and streets across rural areas as historic flood waters began to recede.
In the central mountain town of Kayi, where the Plato River overflowed its banks and consumed brown torrents of water from cars and homes, cupboards, beds and large refrigerators littered people’s yards on Tuesday.
“Puerto Rico is not ready for this, or anything,” said Mariang Hernandez, a 48-year-old housewife, who said she doubted the government would help her community of about 300 people in the long term, despite ongoing efforts to clear streets and restore energy. “This is only for a few days and then they forgot about us.”
She and her husband were stuck in line waiting for the National Guard to clear the landslide in their mountainous neighborhood.
“Is it open? Is it open?” asked one driver worried that the road might be completely closed.
Other drivers asked the National Guard if they could swing by their homes to help cut trees or remove clumps of mud and debris.
The clean-up effort occurred on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which struck as a Category 4 storm in 2017 and caused a year-long power outage in parts of Caye.
Janet Soto, a 34-year-old manicurist, worried that the crew would take too long to restore power because a landslide swept away the neighborhood’s main lighting site.
“It’s the first time this has happened,” she said of the landslides. “We didn’t think the amount of rain would be so great.”
Governor Pedro Pierluisi requested a major disaster declaration on Tuesday and said it would take at least a week before authorities had an estimate of the damage caused by Fiona.
He said the damage caused by the rains was “catastrophic”, particularly in the central, southern and southeastern regions of the island.
“The impact of the hurricane has been devastating to a lot of people,” he said.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the agency announced that it would send hundreds of additional staff to bolster local response efforts.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency on the island and deployed two teams on US soil.
The storm surge continued to bring heavy rain to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where a 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio.
Officials said another death was linked to a power outage – a 70-year-old man was burned to death after trying to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running.
Parts of the island saw more than 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain and more fell on Tuesday.
Brigadier General of the National Guard. General Narciso Cruz described the floods as historic.
“There were communities that were submerged in the storm and Maria was not inundated,” he said, referring to the 2017 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 people. “I’ve never seen anything like this before.”
Cruz said 670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 in a nursing home in Caye that was in danger of collapsing.
“Rivers have broken their banks and covered their communities,” he said.
Some people were rescued by kayak and boat while others settled into a huge excavator shovel and were lifted to higher ground.
He regretted that some people initially refused to leave their homes, adding that he understood why.
“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw their lives in danger, they agreed to leave.”
The blow from Fiona was even more devastating because Puerto Rico had not yet recovered from Hurricane Mariathat destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered in blue cloth.
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he will pay the federal government to cover 100% of disaster response costs – instead of the usual 75% – as part of an emergency declaration.
“We need to make sure that this time, Puerto Rico has absolutely everything it needs, ASAP, for as long as it needs it,” he said.
On Tuesday, authorities said at least 1,220 people and more than 70 pets remained in shelters. across the island.
Fiona caused a power outage when it hit the southwest corner of Puerto Rico on Sunday, in memory of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
By Tuesday morning, authorities said they had restored electricity to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Puerto Rico’s governor has warned that it could take days before everyone has electricity.
More than 760,000 consumers – two-thirds of the island’s total – had water service cut off due to turbid water at filtering stations or a lack of electricity, officials said.
Fiona was expected to weaken before hitting easternmost Canada over the weekend. It was not expected to threaten the mainland United States.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities reported two deaths: a 68-year-old man who was hit by a fallen tree and an 18-year-old girl who was hit by an electric pole while riding a motorcycle. The storm forced more than 1,550 people to seek safety in government shelters and left more than 406,500 homes without power.
The hurricane caused several highways to be closed and a tourist pier in Michis Township was badly damaged by the waves. Officials said at least four international airports were closed.
Dominican President Luis Abenader said authorities would need several days to assess the effects of the storm.
Fiona previously hit the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French province of Guadeloupe when his home was swept away by floodwaters, officials said.
Associated Press reporters Martin Adams contributed in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico.