Hurricane Fiona reaches Category 4 as it moves north, leaving disaster-stricken areas to begin slow road to recovery

Hurricane Fiona reaches Category 4 as it moves north, leaving disaster-stricken areas to begin slow road to recovery



CNN
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Hurricane Fiona has escalated into a Category 4 storm as it continues its catastrophic path northward on Wednesday, leaving behind disaster-stricken communities in Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic who must now begin working toward recovery.

Fiona’s sustained winds are raging as high as 130 miles per hour with gusts reaching 155 miles per hour, the National Hurricane Center said early Wednesday, and it is still expected to strengthen as it moves away from Turks and Caicos on Wednesday and makes its way to Bermuda by the week’s end.

After touching down in Puerto Rico on Sunday, the storm ripped through the island and then slammed into the Dominican Republic, causing devastating flooding and leaving critical water and power infrastructure damage in its wake. Most people in the storm’s path were left without power or water in the immediate aftermath, officials said.

Turks and Caicos was under a hurricane warning on Tuesday and residents were urged to shelter in place as sustained winds of up to almost 125 miles per hour – and even higher gusts – battered the islands, according to the British territory’s Department of Disaster Management and Emergencies. Conditions are expected to improve as the storm moves further north.

Several parts of Turks and Caicos experienced island-wide power outages, including Grand Turk, South Caicos, Salt Cay, North Caicos and Middle Caicos, according to Deputy Governor Anya Williams.

The emergency management department warned that storm surges could cause water levels to rise between 5 and 8 feet above regular tide levels. It also cautioned beachgoers that Fiona’s impact could generate “life-threatening surf and rip-current conditions.”

While Williams said no deaths or serious injuries had been reported in Turks and Caicos as of Tuesday evening, at least five deaths have been recorded elsewhere across the Caribbean.

Two people have died in the Dominican Republic, according to the territory’s emergency operations center: 18-year-old Aurielys Esther Jimenez who was struck by a falling power pole while riding a motorcycle and a man was killed by a tree felled by strong winds.

One person was reported dead on the French island of Guadeloupe, though officials did not provide further details. In Puerto Rico, at least two are dead, including 58-year-old Gilberto Ayala Aponte who was swept away by a flooded river and 70-year-old José Cruz Román who died in a fire accident while trying to fill his generator, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said.

The storm is expected to continue heading north through Wednesday then it will likely turn toward the northeast and begin approaching Bermuda, the NHC said.

The Bermuda Weather Service has issued a tropical storm watch ahead of the hurricane’s approach. Fiona’s center is forecast to pass about 150 to 200 miles west of Bermuda, but the storm’s increased size could mean the island may be hit by tropical storm conditions.

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The US State Department issued a travel advisory Tuesday urging US citizens to reconsider travel to Bermuda due to the storm’s potential impact. The department also authorized family members of U.S. government personnel to leave the island in anticipation of the storm.

“U.S. citizens in Bermuda wishing to depart the island should depart now, ahead of Hurricane Fiona’s arrival” the advisory said. “U.S. citizens in Bermuda who need immediate emergency services should contact local authorities.”

Many in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are still grappling with the storm’s aftermath and will likely face a prolonged relief and recovery process.

After an island-wide blackout left Puerto Rico’s 3.1 million residents without power, only about 300,000 customers had their electricity restored as of Tuesday afternoon, according to LUMA Energy, the private company that operates the island’s power grid.

Gov. Pierluisi said he expects “a large portion of the population” will have power restored by late Wednesday, with the exception of the southern region of the island which has suffered the most severe damage.

Clean water access remains a major concern in both both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. About 60% of Puerto Rico’s water customers were without service Tuesday morning, according to the island’s water utility.

“(Being without) power, you know, we can face that and we can deal with that. The biggest concern is with our water. Can’t live without water,” Carlos Vargas, a Cayey, Puerto Rico resident told CNN’s Leyla Santiago.

A man looks at his house in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in El Seibo, Dominican Republic.

Nearly 2 million customers in the Dominican Republic were also without water Tuesday evening, according to Maj. Gen. Juan Méndez García, director of the country’s emergency operations center.

More than 600 homes in the country have been destroyed and 12 communities cut off from aid due to the storm, García said. He also said at least 23 roads and 18 bridges suffered damage.

The storm is a catastrophic blow to Puerto Rico, which was still recovering in some areas from when Hurricane Maria ripped through the island in 2017, inflicting widespread infrastructure damage, destroying homes and leaving thousands dead.

On Tuesday, the 5-year anniversary of Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico, Gov. Pierluisi said the damage caused by Fiona is “devastating” and “catastrophic” in the center, south and southeast regions of the island. But the full scope of the damage has yet to emerge, the governor said, adding that he and officials have been surveying the island to get a fuller picture.

Across Puerto Rico, more than 1,200 people were housed in dozens of shelters on Tuesday, according to the governor.

Emergency crews are struggling against mudslides and flood conditions, which are blocking access to parts of the power grid as well as highly impacted and remote areas which need supplies, according to CNN’s Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico.

National Guards stand to direct traffic in Cayey, Puerto Rico, as resident Luis Noguera helps clear the road.

About 200 families were stranded in the Barros sector of the island because a bridge had been destroyed, according to the governor.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell went to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to assess the damage and determine what additional federal assistance is needed, according to a news release.

“We’re sending hundreds of additional personnel in the next few days to place staff in each of the affected communities to supplement our already vast footprint,” Criswell said in a statement.

Signs of immediate recovery are emerging, however, as public service workers are expected to return to work Wednesday, if they are able to to so safely, Gov. Pierluisi said. Public ground transportation is also expected to resume in some urban areas Wednesday, officials said.

Schools are also being inspected to determine when students may return safely, a process the governor said will likely be “gradual.”

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