Hurricane Fiona devastates the Turks and Caicos Islands and moves towards Bermuda
Hurricane Fiona drenched the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm devastating Puerto Rico, where most people were left without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to drag survivors to safety. The eye of the storm passed close to Grand Turk, the capital island of the small British territory, after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas.
The storm was centered about 95 miles north of North Caicos Island late Tuesday night, with hurricane-force winds up to 45 miles from the center and tropical gale-force winds spreading up to 100 miles, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC). The storm was moving north at about 8 km/h.
Fiona was due to approach Bermuda late Thursday, the NHC said, and is expected to strengthen over the next few days. The US State Department issued an advisory Tuesday night urging US citizens to “reconsider” travel to Bermuda.
While the storm was still raging across the archipelago late Tuesday, officials reported only a handful of downed trees and power poles and no fatalities. However, they found that telecommunications on Grand Turk were severely compromised.
“Fiona has definitely fought us in the last few hours and we’re not out of the thicket yet,” said Akierra Missick, Secretary of State for Spatial Planning and Infrastructure Development.
Turks and Caicos could see another 1 to 3 inches of rain from Fiona, while the Dominican Republic could see another 1 to 2 inches, the NHC predicted, bringing with it the potential for even more flooding. Overall, parts of Puerto Rico could receive up to 35 inches of rain from the storm, while some parts of the Dominican Republic could see 20 inches.
“Storms are unpredictable,” Washington Misick, prime minister of Turks and Caicos, said in a statement from London, where he attended the storms Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. “You must therefore take every precaution to ensure your safety.”
Fiona was predicted to be weakening before invading easternmost Canada over the weekend. It was not expected to threaten the US mainland.
Fiona triggered a blackout when it struck the southwest corner of Puerto Rico on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which struck the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
As of Tuesday morning, authorities said they had powered nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. power was also restored to the San Jorge Children’s and Women’s Hospital in San Juan on Tuesday afternoon, Puerto Rico’s power distribution company Luma reported.
Puerto Rico’s governor warned it could be days before everyone has power.
Water supplies have been disrupted for more than 760,000 customers – two-thirds of the island’s total – due to cloudy water in filtration systems or a lack of electricity, officials said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted late Tuesday night that 1.2 million people in Puerto Rico were still without electricity and 27% of the island without water supplies. Hochul added that 1,301 people were in temporary shelters.
She said New York State Police soldiers would be dispatched to the area to help with the recovery effort.
The storm was responsible for at least two deaths in Puerto Rico. A 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio. Another death was linked to a power outage – a 70-year-old man was burned after trying to fill his running generator with petrol, officials said.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities also reported two deaths: a 68-year-old man who was hit by a falling tree and an 18-year-old girl who was hit by a falling power 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 blocked several freeways, and a tourist pier in the town of Miches was severely damaged by high waves. At least four international airports have been closed, officials said.
Dominican President Luis Abinader said authorities would need several days to assess the impact of the storm.
In the mountain town of Cayey in central Puerto Rico, where the Plato River burst its banks and the brown stream of water engulfed cars and homes, overturned dressers, beds and large refrigerators lay strewn in people’s yards on Tuesday.
“Puerto Rico is not prepared for that or for anything,” said Mariangy Hernández, a 48-year-old homemaker who doubted the government would help her community of 300 in the long term, despite ongoing efforts to get the roads and put electricity in again. “It’s only for a few days and later they forget about us.”
She and her husband stood in line waiting for the National Guard to clear a landslide in their hilly neighborhood.
“Is it open? Is it open?” asked a driver, worried the road might be completely closed.
Other drivers asked the National Guard if they could stop by their homes to help chop down trees or clear mud and debris.
Michelle Carlo, a medical consultant for Direct Relief in Puerto Rico, told CBS News Tuesday that conditions on the island are “eerily similar” to 2017 Hurricane Maria caused Almost 3,000 dead.
“Although Fiona was only classified as a Category 1 hurricane, in some places the water damage in Puerto Rico was as bad or even worse than when Maria hit us five years ago,” Carlo said.
Five years later there are more than 3,000 houses on the island still covered by blue tarps.
National Guard Brig. Gen. Gen. Narciso Cruz called the resulting flooding historic.
“There were churches that were flooded in the storm that weren’t flooded under Mary,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
Cruz said 670 people in Puerto Rico were rescued, including 19 people at a retirement home in the northern mountain town of Cayey that was at risk of collapsing.
“The rivers burst their banks and covered the communities,” he said.
Some were rescued by kayaks and boats, while others snuggled into the massive bucket of an excavator and were lifted to higher ground.
He lamented that some people refused to leave their homes, adding that he understood them.
“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw that their lives were in danger, they agreed to go.”
Jeannette Soto, a 34-year-old manicurist, worried it would take crews a long time to restore power after a landslide swept away the neighborhood’s main light pole.
“This is happening for the first time,” she said of the landslides. “We didn’t think the extent of the rain would be so great.”
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi on Tuesday called for an explanation for a major disaster, saying it would be at least a week before authorities had an estimate of the damage Fiona had caused.
He said the damage caused by the rain was “catastrophic”, particularly in the island’s central, southern and south-eastern regions.
“The effects of the hurricane were devastating for many people,” he said.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the agency announced it would deploy hundreds of additional personnel to bolster local response efforts.
On Tuesday evening, US Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico. This comes after President Biden issued an emergency declaration on Monday.
HHS has so far deployed 25 employees to the island, the agency said in a press release.
“We will do everything we can to assist Puerto Rico officials in responding to the impact of Hurricane Fiona,” Becerra said in a statement. “We are working closely with Territory Health Authorities and our federal partners and stand ready to provide additional public health and medical support.”
US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he will push for the federal government to cover 100% of disaster relief costs — instead of the usual 75% — under an emergency disaster declaration.
“We have to make sure this time around that Puerto Rico has absolutely everything they need as soon as possible for as long as they need it,” he said.