The Impact of Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico—and How to Help

Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans were still without water and power days after Hurricane Fiona struck the island on September 18.

Hurricane Fiona Puerto Rico

Homes are flooded on Salinas Beach in southwestern Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

Photo by Alejandro Granadillo/AP

As rains and floods continued to threaten communities across Puerto Rico on Thursday, citizens began to take stock of the destruction unleashed by Hurricane Fiona, which ripped through the island on Sunday, knocking out power and water to the majority of Puerto Rico’s residents.

By Thursday morning, authorities said they had restored power to nearly 500,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers, but Puerto Rico’s governor Pedro Pierluisi warned it could be days before everyone has electricity. More than 400,000 people in Puerto Rico remained without water service on Thursday as citizens spent hours in lines to fill jugs from water trucks and others scooped water from mountain runoff.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which provides disaster recovery assistance and information, said this week that it has deployed additional teams of people to assist the hundreds of personnel already on the ground as the agency worked to assess the damages and determine what other resources are needed. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency on the island and has deployed teams to the U.S. territory as well.

The National Weather Service reported on Wednesday that flooding continued to be a concern amid ongoing rainfall in the aftermath of the hurricane. Parts of the island had received more than 25 inches of rain, and more is expected in the coming days.

Governor Pierluisi said it would be at least a week before authorities have an estimate of the damage that Fiona caused, but described the destruction as “catastrophic,” especially in the island’s central, south, and southeast regions.

Authorities said Tuesday that at least 500 people remained in shelters across the island.

While Puerto Rico has thus far been the hardest hit, it’s not the only island in the Caribbean to see damage and devastation. The storm also forced more than 1,550 people to seek safety in shelters in the Dominican Republic, where it left more than 406,500 homes without power.

It hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm, and it was strengthening into a Category 4 hurricane as it headed toward Bermuda, where it is expected to hit on Friday, according to the Hurricane Center.

How to help the people of Puerto Rico

For those watching the devastation from afar and wondering how to help, there are several notable organizations working to assist in the recovery efforts. Of course, there are major aid groups that swoop in after a crisis such as Red Cross, but there are also some grassroots efforts in Puerto Rico that are doing important work on the ground.

Taller Salud

This female-led organization works to support women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Taller Salud also provides emergency management tools to the community and is donating food, water filters, and diapers in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

SBP Puerto Rico

Founded in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in 2017, SBP Puerto Rico works to help families repair and rebuild damaged homes. “Every day our team works simultaneously in 8 to 12 homes, driving forward recovery construction work . . . we do this through our construction model based on the Toyota Production System, trained AmeriCorps members, and passionate volunteers,” the organization explains on its website. SBP has helped more than 200 families and more will need assistance getting back into a safe and secure home following Hurricane Fiona. SBP is hoping to court volunteers as well as funding.

Ayuda Legal

This useful resource provides Puerto Rican residents with free access to legal information so that they can be better informed about the legal routes available to them for obtaining assistance, including in the aftermath of a crisis or natural disaster such as Hurricane Fiona. For those who don’t have the means to hire an attorney, the hope is to provide people with clear and easy-to-digest legal information in the event they need to represent and advocate for themselves in a legal setting.

Puerto Rican Civic Club

A San Jose, California–based nonprofit social club for Puerto Ricans, the Civic Club is raising money for solar lights as well as propane and gas generators for those in need in Puerto Rico. People can either donate funds or purchase items directly from a list outlined by the organization and send them to the provided address in Puerto Rico, where staff will be collecting and distributing them.

PR x PR

Created by Puerto Rican business leaders, PR x PR is a zero-overhead, 501c3 nonprofit that gives 100 percent of the donations it receives to communities in need. Aid efforts are focused on providing food, clean water, and energy.

Associated Press contributed reporting.

Michelle Baran is the senior travel news editor at AFAR where she oversees breaking news, travel intel, pandemic coverage, airline, cruise, and consumer travel news. Baran joined AFAR in August 2018 after an 11-year run as a senior editor and reporter at leading travel industry newspaper Travel Weekly.