Hurricane Fiona made landfall on the southwest coast of Puerto Rico on Sunday, when power was lost across the island as it was devastated nearly five years ago after Hurricane Maria ravaged U.S. territory.
Category 1 Storm Fiona reached Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. ET with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, the National Hurricane Center said. Forecasters said the system was expected to unleash life-threatening rain and dangerous mudslides. According to the Hurricane Center, “catastrophic flooding” is possible in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
“Now is the time to act and raise awareness,” Puerto Rico Emergency Management Commissioner Nino Correa said before the landfall.
Luma, which operates transmission and distribution, said strong winds disrupted transmission lines, causing “island-wide power outages”.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency in the territory, which is home to 3.2 million people, the vast majority of whom are U.S. citizens.
Hurricane Fiona projected path
The Fiona Center will likely continue to pass near or over southwest and west Puerto Rico Sunday afternoon and evening, the center said. Fiona will then roar toward the northern coast of the Dominican Republic on Sunday night and Monday, before moving to near or east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.
“Torrential rain and mudslides are expected in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic,” the hurricane center said.
After crossing the Caribbean and the Bahamas, Fiona could follow the track to Bermuda, Accuweather said. A hurricane warning was in effect for parts of the coast of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic on Sunday.
Fiona on the move:Tropical Storm Fiona targets Caribbean island of Puerto Rico
How much rain is expected?
Fiona is expected to receive 12 to 16 inches of rain in eastern and southern Puerto Rico, with up to 25 inches in remote areas, forecasters said.
The storm is likely to hit towns on the southern coast that are still recovering from a series of powerful earthquakes in 2019.
“These rains will produce life-threatening flash floods and urban flooding in eastern Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, as well as mudslides and landslides in higher-lying areas,” the Hurricane Center warned.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said he was ready to declare a state of emergency and activate the National Guard if needed.
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What was the storm that destroyed the island?
Fiona won’t be a massive system when Hurricane Maria makes landfall as a Category 4 storm on September 20, 2017, but it still poses a serious threat, Accuweather said.
Maria was devastating to the island, killing at least 3,000 people. Thousands of homes, roads and recreational areas have yet to be repaired or rebuilt. According to the Associated Press, the government has completed only 21 percent of the more than 5,500 official post-hurricane projects, and seven of the island’s 78 cities reported that none had begun.
“I think all of us Puerto Ricans who have experienced Maria have the post-traumatic stress, ‘What’s going to happen, how long will it last, what needs might we be facing?'” said resident Danny Hernandez.
Hernandez, who works in the capital of San Juan, said he plans to weather the storm with his family in the western town of Mayaguez.
Residents stocking up at grocery stores are nervous, Hernandez said. “After Maria, we all experienced scarcity to some extent,” he said.
In the southwestern town of El Combate, which is in the storm’s path, Thomas Rivera, the hotel’s co-owner, is concerned about the amount of rain that could be released.
Rivera said workers brought bedridden family members to the hotel, fearing a slow government response after Maria. Rivera said he had diesel, gasoline, food, water and ice on hand. “What we’ve done is prepared to rely as little as possible on the central government,” he said.
Maria death toll:Studies have shown that Hurricane Maria killed more than 70 times the official death toll.
How worried are the grids?
Hurricane Maria knocked out Puerto Rico’s power grid. The grid is still very fragile and is being rebuilt; blackouts are frequent.
Luma, which operates transmission and distribution, warned earlier on Sunday of “extensive service disruptions”. By the afternoon, the whole island was dark. “The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and are hindering the ability to assess the overall situation,” the company said. Luma said it could take days to fully restore power.
The medical center runs on generators, some of which have failed. Health Minister Carlos Merado said staff were repairing the generator at the Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Will Fiona directly affect America?
The likelihood of direct impact on the continental U.S. has diminished since last week, but the storm could whip up dangerous waves and strong rapids on the East Coast later this week, Accuweather said.
How has the 2022 Atlantic hurricane season fared so far?
When it formed on Sunday, Fiona became the third hurricane of the Atlantic season. The season got off to a slow start. For the first time in 25 years, no hurricanes formed and no storms directly affected the United States through August. The first hurricane of the Atlantic season usually forms before August 11, according to NOAA.
Quiet August:Since 1997, August has not been so short of tropical storms. Is hurricane season over?
The season officially begins on June 1st and runs until November 30th. The peak of the season is usually around September 17.
Contribution: Doyle Rice, Associated Press