Eye of Hurricane Fiona close to battered, powerless Puerto Rico

Eye of Hurricane Fiona close to battered, powerless Puerto Rico

HAVANA (AP) – The eye of newly formed Hurricane Fiona was near the southern coast of Puerto Rico on Sunday – already causing an island-wide power blackout and threatening to dump “historic” levels of rain.

Forecasters said the spill was expected to cause landslides and catastrophic flooding, with up to 25 inches (64 centimeters) in remote areas.

“It’s time to take action and be concerned,” said Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner.

Fiona was centered 25 miles (40 kilometers) southwest of Ponce, Puerto Rico, on Sunday morning, and its clouds covered the entire island. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph (140 kph) and was moving west-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph).

Tropical storm force winds extended as far as 140 miles (220 kilometers) from the center of Fiona.

US President Joe Biden announced a state of emergency on US territory as the eye of the storm approached the south-west corner of the island.

Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said the bad weather, including 80 mph winds, disrupted transmission lines, leaving the entire island “a black shell.”

“The weather right now is extremely dangerous and they are hindering the ability to assess the whole situation,” he said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

Health centers were running on generators — and some of them failed. Health Secretary Carlos Mellado said teams were working to repair generators as soon as possible at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Fiona hit just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that struck on September 20, 2017, which destroyed the island’s power grid and caused nearly 3,000 deaths.

More than 3,000 houses still have only a blue tarp as a roof, and the infrastructure is still weak.

Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution, said the bad weather, including 80 mph winds, disrupted transmission lines, leaving the entire island “a black shell.”

“The weather right now is extremely dangerous and they are hindering the ability to assess the whole situation,” he said, adding that it could take several days to fully restore power.

“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who lived through Maria have that post-traumatic stress, ‘What’s going to happen, how long is it going to last and what needs might we face?'” said Danny Hernández, who works in the capital city of San Juan but planned to spend the storm with his parents and family in the western town of Mayaguez.

He said the atmosphere at the supermarket was gloomy as he and others waited in the lobby before the storm.

“After Maria, we were all shortchanged to some degree,” he said.

The storm was predicted to pummel cities and towns along Puerto Rico’s southern coast that have yet to fully recover from a series of strong earthquakes starting in late 2019.

Officials reported that several roads were closed across the island as trees and small landslides blocked access.

More than 640 people with 70 pets were seeking shelter across the island on Saturday night, most of them on the south coast.

Puerto Rico’s power grid was knocked out by Hurricane Maria and is weak, and rebuilding has only recently begun. Outages occur daily.

In the southwestern town of El Combate, hotel co-owner Tomás Rivera said he was happy but worried about the “enormous” amount of rain he expected. He noticed that a nearby wildlife sanctuary was remarkably quiet.

“There are thousands of birds here, and they are nowhere to be seen,” he said. “Even the birds have realized what is coming, and they are preparing.”

Rivera said his employees brought stranded family members to the hotel, where he has stocked diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice, given how slow the government responded after Hurricane Maria.

“What we have done is prepared to depend as little as possible on the central government,” he said.

It is a sentiment shared by Ana Córdova, 70 years old, who on Saturday came to shelter in a town along the northern coast of Loiza after buying a lot of food and water.

“I don’t trust them,” she said, referring to the government. “I lost confidence after what happened after Hurricane Maria.”

Puerto Rico’s governor, Pedro Pierluisi, activated the National Guard as the sixth named storm of the Atlantic hurricane season approaches.

“I’m most concerned about the rain,” said forecaster Ernesto Morales with the National Weather Service in San Juan.

Fiona was forecast to drop 12 to 16 inches (30 to 41 centimeters) of rain over eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with as much as 25 inches (64 centimeters) in isolated spots. Morales noted that Hurricane Maria in 2017 had dropped 40 inches (102 centimeters).

The National Weather Service warned late Saturday that the Blanco River in the southeastern coastal town of Naguabo had already overflowed its banks and urged people living nearby to move immediately.

Pierluisi announced on Sunday that public schools and government agencies would remain closed on Monday.

Fiona was forecast to hit the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands under threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the southern part of the Bahamas on Tuesday.

A hurricane warning was issued on the east coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo.

Fiona previously hit the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said. The storm also damaged roads, uprooted trees and destroyed at least one bridge.

St. Dozens of customers were still without power or water, according to the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency.

In the eastern Pacific, Tropical Storm Madeline was expected to bring heavy rain and flooding across parts of southwestern Mexico. The storm was centered about 155 miles (245 kilometers) southwest of Cabo Corrientes on Sunday morning, with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph (75 kph).

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