Hurricane Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sunday, shortly after the entire island lost power as it was damaged nearly five years to the day after Hurricane Maria hit the US territory .
Fiona, a Category 1 storm, made landfall in Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. EDT, with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. The system is expected to unleash historic rainfall of up to 30 inches, widespread flooding and dangerous mudslides, forecasters said.
“The damage we’re seeing is catastrophic,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said.
In the central mountain town of Utuado, the storm washed away a bridge that police said was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit on September 20, 2017.
LUMA Energy, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said high winds disrupted transmission lines, causing “an island-wide blackout.” Full power restoration could take several days, LUMA said.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the territory, home to 3.2 million people, the vast majority of whom are American citizens.
Forecast track of Hurricane Fiona
Fiona’s eye was heading northwest toward the eastern part of the Dominican Republic, the hurricane center said in its 5 p.m. EDT advisory, and was expected to roar near the northern coast of the country on Monday before turning east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.
“Heavy rain and mudslides are expected in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic,” the center said.
After its path through the Caribbean and the Bahamas, Fiona could follow a track toward Bermuda, Accuweather said. Hurricane warnings were in effect Sunday for Puerto Rico and parts of the Dominican Republic.
Forecasters expect the hurricane to strengthen over the next two days, with wind speeds possibly reaching 115 mph.
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How much rain is expected?
Fiona was expected to drop 12 to 18 inches of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, and up to 30 inches in isolated places, forecasters said.
The storm could hit cities and towns on the southern coast that are still recovering from a series of strong earthquakes that hit in 2019.
“These rains will produce life-threatening flash flooding and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher ground,” the hurricane center warned.
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What was the storm that swept the island?
Fiona won’t be the mammoth system that Hurricane Maria was when it made landfall as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 20, 2017, but it still poses a serious threat, Accuweather said.
Maria was devastating to the island, causing at least 3,000 deaths. Thousands of homes, roads and recreational areas still need to be repaired or rebuilt. The government has completed only 21 percent of more than 5,500 official post-hurricane projects, and seven of the island’s 78 municipalities report that no projects have started, the Associated Press reported.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria have the post-traumatic stress of, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to last and what needs could we face?'” resident Danny Hernandez said.
Hernandez, who works in the capital San Juan, said he planned to ride out the storm with family in the western city of Mayagüez. Residents stocking up at grocery stores were nervous, Hernandez said.
“After Maria, we all experienced shortages to some degree,” he said.
In the southwestern town of El Combate, which is in the path of the storm, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera worried about the amount of rain that could be unleashed.
Rivera said workers brought bedridden family members to the hotel, worried about the government’s slow response after Maria. Rivera said he has diesel, gas, food, water and ice on hand. “What we have done is to be prepared to depend as little as possible on the central government,” he said.
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How concerned is the power grid?
Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s power grid. The grid is still very fragile and in the process of being rebuilt. Interruptions are frequent.
LUMA warned earlier on Sunday of “widespread service disruptions”. In the afternoon, the whole island was dark.
“The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and hinder our ability to fully assess the situation,” the company said, adding that it could take days to restore power.
The health centers were running on generators, some of which have failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said teams were working to repair the generators at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Will Fiona directly affect the continental United States?
The potential for a direct impact on the North American mainland has diminished since last week, Accuweather said, but the storm could bring dangerous surf and strong rip currents to the East Coast later this week.
How has the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season been so far?
Fiona became the third hurricane of the Atlantic season on Sunday when it formed. The season has started slowly.
For the first time in 25 years, no hurricanes had formed in August, and no storms have directly impacted the continental United States. The first hurricane of an Atlantic season typically develops on August 11, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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The season officially started on June 1st and will run until November 30th. The peak of the season is usually around September 17th.
Contributing: Doyle Rice, USA TODAY; The Associated Press