Hurricane Fiona drenched the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most people remained without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to lift survivors to safety. The storm’s eye passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas.
By late Tuesday night, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC), the storm was centered about 95 miles north of North Caicos Island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 45 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 160 miles. The storm was moving in a north direction at about 8 mph.
Fiona was expected to approach Bermuda late Thursday, the NHC said, and is expected to strengthen over the next few days. The U.S. State Department issued an advisory Tuesday night telling U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel” to Bermuda.
While the storm was still lashing the archipelago late Tuesday, officials reported only a handful of downed trees and electric posts and no deaths. However, they noted that telecommunications on Grand Turk were severely affected.
“Fiona definitely has battled us over the last few hours, and we’re not out of the thick of it yet,” said Akierra Missick, minister of physical planning and infrastructure development.
Turks and Caicos could still see another 1 to 3 inches of rain from Fiona, while the Dominican Republic could see another 1 to 2 inches, the NHC forecasted, bringing the potential for even more flooding. In total, parts of Puerto Rico could receive as much as 35 inches of rain from the storm, while some portions of the Dominican Republic could see 20 inches.
“Storms are unpredictable,” Turks and Caicos Premier Washington Misick said in a statement from London, where he had been attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. “You must therefore take every precaution to ensure your safety.”
Fiona was forecast to weaken before running into easternmost Canada over the weekend. It was not expected to threaten the U.S. mainland.
Fiona triggered a blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest corner on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
By Tuesday morning, authorities said they had restored power to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Power was also restored to San Jorge Children and Women’s Hospital in San Juan Tuesday afternoon, Puerto Rico power distribution company Luma reported.
Puerto Rico’s governor warned it could take days before everyone has electricity.
Water service was cut to more than 760,000 customers — two-thirds of the total on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul tweeted late Tuesday night that 1.2 million people in Puerto Rico were still without power, and 27% of the island was without water service. Hochul also added that 1,301 people were in temporary shelters.
She said that New York State Police troopers were set to deploy to the region to assist in the recovery efforts.
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 blackout — a 70-year-old man was burned to death after he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, officials said.
In the Dominican Republic, authorities also reported two deaths: a 68-year-old man hit by a falling tree and an 18-year-old girl who was struck by a falling electrical post 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 left several highways blocked, and a tourist pier in the town of Miches was badly damaged by high waves. At least four international airports were closed, officials said.
The Dominican president, Luis Abinader, said authorities would need several days to assess the storm’s effects.
In the central Puerto Rico mountain town of Cayey, where the Plato River burst its banks and the brown torrent of water consumed cars and homes, overturned dressers, beds and large refrigerators lay strewn in people’s yards Tuesday.
“Puerto Rico is not prepared for this, or for anything,” said Mariangy Hernández, a 48-year-old housewife, who said she doubted the government would help her community of some 300 in the long term, despite ongoing efforts to clear the streets and restore power. “This is only for a couple of days and later they forget about us.”
She and her husband were stuck in line waiting for the National Guard to clear a landslide in their hilly neighborhood.
“Is it open? Is it open?” one driver asked, worried that the road might have been completely closed.
Other drivers asked the National Guard if they could swing by their homes to help cut trees or clear clumps of mud and debris.
Michelle Carlo, a medical adviser for Direct Relief in Puerto Rico, told CBS News on Tuesday that conditions on the island were “eerily similar” to 2017, when Hurricane Maria caused nearly 3,000 deaths.
“Despite Fiona being categorized as only a Category 1 hurricane, the water damage in Puerto Rico has been in some places as bad or even worse than when Maria hit us five years ago,” Carlo said.
Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered by blue tarps.
National Guard Brig. Gen. Narciso Cruz described the resulting flooding as historic.
“There were communities that flooded in the storm that didn’t flood under Maria,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Cruz said that 670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 people at a retirement home in the north mountain town of Cayey that was in danger of collapsing.
“The rivers broke their banks and blanketed communities,” he said.
Some were rescued via kayaks and boats while others nestled into the massive shovel of a digger and were lifted to higher ground.
He lamented that some people refused to leave their home, adding that he understood them.
“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw their lives were in danger, they agreed to leave.”
Jeannette Soto, a 34-year-old manicurist, worried it would take a long time for crews to restore power because a landslide swept away the neighborhood’s main light post.
“It’s the first time this happens,” she said of the landslides. “We didn’t think the magnitude of the rain was going to be so great.”
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi requested a major disaster declaration on Tuesday and said it would be at least a week before authorities have an estimate of the damage that Fiona caused.
He said the damage caused by the rain was “catastrophic,” especially in the island’s central, south and southeast regions.
“The impact caused by the hurricane has been 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 was sending hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.
On Tuesday evening, U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico. This comes after President Biden issued an emergency declaration Monday.
HHS has deployed 25 personnel to the island so far, the agency said in a news release.
“We will do all we can to assist officials in Puerto Rico with responding to the impacts 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.”
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he would push for the federal government to cover 100% of disaster response costs — instead of the usual 75% — as part of an emergency disaster declaration.
“We need to make sure this time, Puerto Rico has absolutely everything it needs, as soon as possible, for as long as they need it,” he said.
- Hurricane Fiona