Hurricane Fiona roared over the Dominican Republic on Monday, a day after knocking out power to all of Puerto Rico and causing damage the governor described as “catastrophic.” Many people were also left without water service.
The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island still have blue tarps for a roof.
The wind and water from Fiona stripped the pavement from roads, tore off roofs, and sent torrents pouring into homes. The storm also took out a bridge and flooded an airport runway.
Authorities reported no deaths directly from Fiona, but Puerto Rico officials said it was too early to know the full scope of damage. The storm was still expected to unleash torrential rain across the U.S. territory.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi declined to say how long it would take to fully restore electricity but said for most customers, “It’s a question of days.”
“The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic,” Pierluisi said.
The island’s National Weather Service office said flash flooding was occurring in south-central parts of Puerto Rico and tweeted, “Move to higher ground immediately!”
Up to 22 inches of rain fell in some areas of Puerto Rico and forecasters said another 4 to 8 inches could fall as the storm moves away, with even more possible in some places.
Rain totals of up to 15 inches were projected for the eastern Dominican Republic, where authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work.
“It’s important people understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a weather service meteorologist in San Juan.
He said flooding reached “historic levels,” with authorities evacuating or rescuing hundreds of people across Puerto Rico. Water service was cut to more than 837,000 customers—two-thirds of the total on the island—because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
Brown water rushed through streets, into homes, and covered a runway in southern Puerto Rico. Authorities said at least 1,300 people spent the night in shelters across the island.
On Monday morning, Fiona was centered about 10 miles southeast of Samana in the Dominican Republic, with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the northwest at 8 miles per hour.
Fiona was forecast to swipe the Dominican Republic on Monday and then northern Haiti and the Turks and Caicos Islands with the threat of heavy rain. It could threaten the far southern end of the Bahamas on Tuesday.
Authorities announced Monday that power had been returned to 100,000 customers on Puerto Rico, an island of 3.2 million people, but power distribution company Luma said it could take days to fully restore service.
President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency as the eye of the storm approached Puerto Rico’s southwest corner.
Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floodwaters washed his home away, officials said. The system hit Puerto Rico on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.