Hurricane Fiona blasted toward the Puerto Rican coast on Sunday, cutting off all power and threatening to cause “catastrophic flooding” on the island’s US territory.
Packing winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, Fiona is expected to gain strength over the next 48 hours as it moves toward Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic before heading north into the open waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the eye of the storm was approaching the southwest coast of Puerto Rico, and that “catastrophic flooding” was expected there and in the Dominican Republic, an island nation to the west.
“Additional reinforcement is expected over the next 48 hours as Fiona moves near Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and over the southwest Atlantic Ocean,” the NHC said.
The National Weather Service’s San Juan office also warned on Twitter of “life-threatening flash floods in streams, highways, and streets, as well as urban, low-lying, and poorly drained areas.”
Governor Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement posted on Twitter that the island lost power as Fiona approached Puerto Rico.
“Due to the impact of the hurricane, the electrical system is currently out of service,” he said, adding that flooding has been reported in various parts of the island.
The storm has already killed one person, as a man was killed when floods swept away his home in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe, when Fiona was still classified as a tropical storm.
US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on Sunday as Fiona approached the island, allowing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance.
– ‘Go to the shelters’ –
“We are asking residents not to leave their homes and go to shelters if they are in areas prone to landslides and floods,” Pierluisi said at a news conference the day before.
The island — which has suffered from major infrastructure problems for years — was hit by Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, destroying its electrical grid.
The grid was privatized in June 2021 in an attempt to solve the blackout problem, but the problem persisted, and the entire island lost power earlier this year.
Power outages were hitting Puerto Rico even before the full force of Hurricane Fiona hit, with more than 388,000 people without power, according to the tracking website poweroutage.us.
The former Spanish colony became a territory of the United States in the late 19th century before gaining the status of an associated Free State in 1950.
After years of financial troubles and stagnation, in 2017 the island declared the largest-ever bankruptcy by a local US administration. Later that year, Hurricanes Irma and Maria added to the island’s problems, and provoked animosity between San Juan and Washington.
The administration of then-President Donald Trump was widely accused of failing to provide adequate federal aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria hit.
Footage of him throwing paper towels at survivors during a visit to the island drew criticism, and Trump later claimed the storm death toll had been inflated by Democrats to “make me look as bad as possible.”