Fiona wipes Turks and Caicos Islands, Puerto Rico faces major cleanup

CAYEY, Puerto Rico (AP) – Hurricane Fiona bombed the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most people were left without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to help survivors to safety. to bring.

The eye of the storm passed close to Grand Turk, the capital of the tiny British territory, on Tuesday morning after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas. Storm surge could raise water levels there by as much as 5 to 8 feet above normal, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.

Late Tuesday afternoon, the storm was centered about 50 miles (80 km) north of North Caicos Island, with hurricane strength extending up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.

Prime Minister Washington Misick urged people to evacuate. “Storms are unpredictable,” he said in a statement from London, where he had attended Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral. “You must therefore take all precautions to ensure your safety.”

Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) and was moving northwest at 8 mph (13 kph), according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm would likely strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday.

Rain continued to plague parts of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, where the sounds of people scraping, sweeping and spraying their homes and streets echoed across rural areas as the historic floodwaters began to recede.

In the central mountain town of Cayey, where the Plato River overflowed and the brown stream of water consumed cars and houses, overturned dressers, beds and large refrigerators lay in people’s yards on Tuesday.

“Puerto Rico isn’t prepared for this, or for anything,” said Marangy Hernández, a 48-year-old homemaker, who said she doubted the government would help her community of some 300 in the long run, despite continued efforts efforts to clear the streets and restore power. “This is just for a few days and later they forget about us.”

She and her husband were stuck in line waiting for the National Guard to clean up a landslide in their hilly neighborhood.

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“It’s open? It’s open?” a driver asked, worried that the road might have been completely closed.

Other drivers asked the National Guard if they could swing past their homes to cut down trees or clear mud and debris.

The cleanup efforts took place on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which struck as a Category 4 storm in 2017, cutting power in parts of Cayey for a year.

Jeannette Soto, a 34-year-old manicurist, feared it would take a long time for the crew to restore power as a landslide wiped out the neighborhood’s main light pole.

“It’s the first time this has happened,” she said of the landslides. “We didn’t think the magnitude of the rain would be this big.”

Government Pedro Pierluisi requested a major disaster declaration on Tuesday and said it would take at least a week for authorities to estimate the damage Fiona caused.

He said the damage caused by the rain was “catastrophic”, especially in the central, southern and southeastern regions of the island.

“The impact of the hurricane is devastating for many people,” he said.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday when the agency announced it would send hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.

The broad storm continued to rain profusely over 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.

Another death was linked to a power outage — a 70-year-old man was burned after trying to fill his generator with petrol while it was running, officials said.

More than 64 centimeters of rain had fallen on parts of the island and more fell on Tuesday.

National Guard Brig. Gene. Narciso Cruz described the flood as historic.

“There were communities that flooded in the storm that didn’t flood under Maria,” he said, referring to the 2017 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Cruz said 670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 people in a retirement home in Cayey that was in danger of collapsing.

“The rivers broke their banks and blanketed communities,” he said.

Some people were rescued via kayaks and boats, while others settled into the huge shovel of a digger 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 that their lives were in danger, they agreed to leave.”

Fiona’s blow became even more devastating as Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Mariawhich destroyed the electricity grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 houses on the island are still covered in blue sails.

US Senate leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he will push for the federal government to cover 100% of disaster relief costs — instead of the usual 75% — as part of an emergency disaster declaration.

“We need to make sure that Puerto Rico has absolutely everything it needs this time, as soon as possible and for as long as they need it,” he said.

Authorities said on Tuesday that at least 1,220 people and more than 70 pets were left in shelters about the island.

Fiona caused a blackout as it hit the southwest corner of Puerto Rico on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island as a Category 3 storm in 1989.

On Tuesday morning, authorities said they had supplied power to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Puerto Rico’s governor warned it could take days for everyone to have electricity.

Water supplies were cut to more than 760,000 customers — two-thirds of the island’s total — because of cloudy water at filter plants or lack of power, officials said.

Fiona was predicted to weaken before invading eastern Canada over the weekend. It was not expected to threaten the US mainland.

In the Dominican Republic, authorities reported two deaths: a 68-year-old man hit by a falling tree and an 18-year-old girl who was hit by a falling utility 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 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.

Dominican President Luis Abinader said authorities will need several days to assess the impact of the storm.

Fiona has previously assaulted the eastern Caribbean, killing a man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.

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Associated Press reporters Martín Adames in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed.

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