SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona was downgraded to a Category 4 storm Wednesday after making landfall in the Turks and Caicos Islands and is forecast to pass Bermuda later this week.
The storm was blamed for causing at least four direct deaths during its march across the Caribbean, where it unleashed torrential rain on Puerto Rico, leaving most without power or water as hundreds of thousands of people scraped mud from their homes after authorities described as a “historic” flood.
Power company officials initially said it would take several days to fully restore power, but then backed off late Tuesday night.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generating facilities across the island. We want to make it clear that recovery and power restoration efforts are ongoing and are being impacted by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, worn equipment and downed lines,” Luma, a power transmission and distribution company, said in a statement.
The hum of generators could be heard across the US as people grew increasingly agitated and some still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm five years ago, killing an estimated 2,975 people.
Luis Noguera, who was helping clear a landslide in the central mountain town of Caye, said Maria had left him without electricity for a year.
“We paid the electrician out of our own pocket to hook us up,” he recalled, adding that he didn’t think the government would help again after Fiona.
Long lines were reported at several gas stations across Puerto Rico, and some pulled off the main highway to collect water from the creek.
“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but it was worse,” said Gerardo Rodríguez, who lives in the southern coastal city of Salinas.
Parts of the island received more than 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain, with more falling on Tuesday.
By Tuesday evening, authorities said they had restored power to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers, while water was out for more than 760,000 customers – two-thirds of the island’s total.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the agency announced it was sending hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency on the island and has sent several teams to the island.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported minimal damage and no deaths, despite the storm passing Tuesday morning near Grand Turk, the British territory’s small capital island.
The government imposed a curfew and urged people to leave flood-prone areas.
“The Turks and Caicos have had a phenomenal experience in the last 24 hours,” said Deputy Governor Anya Williams. “It definitely came with its fair share of challenges.”
By early Wednesday morning, Fiona was about 170 miles (275 kilometers) north-northwest of Grand Turk Island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center. Maximum sustained winds were 130 mph (215 kph) and was moving north at 8 mph (13 kph), the National Hurricane Center said. .
The storm killed one person in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe, another person in Puerto Rico who was swept away by an overflowing river, and two people in the Dominican Republic, one killed by a falling tree and the other by a downed power pole.
Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.
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