Hurricane Fiona seen intensifying after slamming Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/Santo Domingo, Sept 19 (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona was churning north on Monday evening after bringing heavy rain and strong winds to the Dominican Republic and total power outages in neighboring Puerto Rico, where at least two people were injured. died

A Category 2 hurricane will likely become a Category 3 as it moves through warm Caribbean waters toward the Turks and Caicos. The National Hurricane Center upgraded Fiona to a Category 2 with sustained winds of 105 mph (169 kph) on Monday evening.

On Tuesday, Fiona’s center is expected to move near or east of the archipelago, which is currently under a hurricane warning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said. Tropical storm conditions were also expected in the Bahamas.

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After strafing Puerto Rico, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic near Boca Yuma at 3:30 a.m. local time, according to the NHC. The storm’s center reached the northern coast of Hispaniola before noon.

It is the first hurricane to make a direct hit in the Dominican Republic since Jeanne caused severe damage to the east of the country in September 2004.

Fiona caused severe flooding, which isolated several villages and left around 800 displaced and more than 11,000 people without power in the eastern part of the country.

“The damage is significant,” said Luis Abinador, president of the Dominican Republic. In the province of La Altagracia, where the famous resort of Punta Cana is located, they plan to declare a state of disaster in El Ceibo and Hato Mayor.

In La Altagracia, in the far east of the country and where the hurricane made landfall Monday morning, the overflow of the Yuma River damaged agricultural fields and isolated several towns.

Electric and water utilities are working to restore service to affected areas.

In Puerto Rico, a territory of the United States, residents are still dealing with strong winds, frequent lightning strikes and heavy rains.

Fiona made landfall there on Sunday afternoon, dropping 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain in some areas.

The storm comes five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, causing the worst power outage in US history.

US President Joe Biden spoke with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierlusi on Monday and promised to increase the number of aid workers sent to the island in the next few days.

According to the White House, “the president said he will make sure the federal team stays on the job to get it done.”

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Dean Criswell will travel there on Tuesday.

Jeanette Rivera, 54, a public relations worker from Orlando, Florida, said she had not spoken to her family since a spotty phone call early Sunday morning.

She fears for the safety of her parents and the health of her 84-year-old father, who recently contracted Covid-19 and developed a fever.

“My concern is that if they need help, there’s no way to communicate,” Rivera said.

Without power

Nearly 90% of Puerto Rico remained without power on Monday, according to Officials said it would take days to reconnect the entire island of 3.3 million people.

Many roads have become impassable due to uprooted trees and mudslides. Images on social media showed submerged cars, people wading in waist-deep water and rescue boats floating on swampy roads. Only 30% of drinking water consumers are served.

Crews rescued about 400 people from flooding in the southern city of Salinas after rain turned to a drizzle. South and Southeast regions were the worst hit.

Despite emergency repairs after Maria, Puerto Rico’s power grid remains fragile, according to the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank.

Maria, a Category 5 storm in 2017 that killed more than 3,000 people, left 1.5 million customers without power and knocked out 80% of power lines. Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live under makeshift tarpaulin roofs.

The National Weather Service lifted its hurricane warning for Puerto Rico on Monday, while officials warned that rainbands could follow the storm system for hundreds of miles.

A 70-year-old man from the northern city of Arecibo is the first known casualty in Puerto Rico. He was trying to start his electric generator when the machine exploded, killing him on the spot, police said.

One person drowned in the afternoon. An 88-year-old woman died of a heart attack at the shelter, police said.

Hundreds of responders were helping with recovery efforts after Biden declared an emergency for the island, allowing FEMA to coordinate disaster relief and provide emergency protective measures.

Pierlusi said the government’s response was more efficient than Hurricane Maria, which criticized former President Donald Trump’s administration for being too slow to respond to the disaster. Trump denied it.

The government did not estimate the damage, as it is still in the response period, although the governor said the damage was in the millions.

For most of the five years since Maria hit Puerto Rico, the debt-ridden government and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority have been mired in bankruptcy, and the island’s finances have been managed by a federally appointed oversight board.

(This story corrects the 5th paragraph to 2004, not 2018, as the year the hurricane hit the Dominican Republic)

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Ivelise Riveria in San Juan and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez in Santo Domingo reported; Additional reporting by Tyler Clifford, Rich McKay, Trevor Hunnicutt, Micah Rosenberg, Christian Plumb and Tim Reid; Writing by Tyler Clifford and Kostas Pitas; Editing by Frank McGurty, Mark Porter, Richard Chang, and Leslie Adler

Our Standards: Principles of Thomson Reuters Trust.

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