Alejandro Granadillo/The Associated Press
Hurricane Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon, as the entire island continued to recover from power outages.
A Category 1 hurricane is expected to produce dangerous landslides and severe flooding on an island already battered by the storm.
As of late Sunday afternoon, the storm was centered 10 miles west of Mayaguez, a community on Puerto Rico’s west coast, according to the National Hurricane Center. It had maximum sustained winds of 85 mph and was moving northwestward at 9 mph. It is now heading towards the Dominican Republic.
Fiona is expected to bring 12 to 18 inches of rain in Puerto Rico and up to 30 inches in the eastern and southern parts of the island.
According to reports from utilities tracked by PowerOutage.US, more than 1,400,000 customers (more than 3 million people) have lost power due to transmission grid failures caused by the current hurricane.
The island’s private power company, Luma Energy, said it “could take a few days” for Puerto Rico to fully restore power service.
Frontline workers will begin working to restore the system once conditions are safe, Governor Pedro Pierluisi wrote on Facebook. Restoring power will take at least a few days or longer, depending on the extent of the storm’s damage to the grid.
Storm to move toward Dominican Republic on Monday
The storm is heading toward the Dominican Republic and is preparing to head east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.
Flash flooding in Puerto Rico and eastern Dominican Republic could be “life-threatening and catastrophic,” according to officials monitoring the storm. The combination of storm surges and tides could create up to three feet of water rise on the island’s southern coast.
So far, Fiona has wreaked havoc in the eastern Caribbean, wreaking havoc on roads in Guadeloupe, France, destroying property and causing casualties, said regional official Sylvie Gus. Sylvie Gustave Dit Duflo wrote on Twitter.
The storm is expected to cause potentially devastating damage to parts of the Dominican Republic, northern Haiti and the southern tip of the Bahamas in the coming days.
Fragile power grids make things worse
Not long ago, the island’s power grid was damaged by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that killed about 3,000 people in 2017. Over 80% of the transmission and distribution system was damaged, and the recovery process was slow.
As such, power outages have been an ongoing problem on the island.
Leomar Rodríguez González, from the central Puerto Rico town of Utuado, told NPR that he and his family have been anxious because the severe flooding and landslides reminded them of Hurricane Maria.
“I worry about a lot of things, but at the moment, the floods worry me,” he said.
Rodríguez González said Maria destroyed his family’s home and business. That’s why they prepared for the storm: They stocked up on canned food, bought extra batteries, and trimmed trees near utility poles.
Every year since Maria, the Puerto Rican government has pledged to be better prepared for the next storm. This is considered the first real test of that commitment.
The government’s response plan now includes ensuring backup generators work in hospitals and stockpiling warehouses with food, cribs and other essentials. But it’s not enough to make sure the grid is better able to handle storms.
On Sunday, President Biden approved Puerto Rico’s emergency declaration, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts.
Adrian Florido contributed reporting.