Fiona swipes Turks and Caicos, Puerto Rico faces major cleanup

CAYEY, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona blasted the Turks and Caicos Islands Tuesday as a Category 3 storm, wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico, where most people were without power or running water and rescue workers used heavy equipment to pull survivors to safety.

The eye of the storm passed near Grand Turk, the capital of the tiny British territory, on Tuesday morning after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to evacuate flood-affected areas. According to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, storm surge could raise water levels there by 5 to 8 feet above normal.

By Tuesday afternoon, the storm was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) north of North Caicos Island, with winds extending 30 miles (45 kilometers) from the center.

Prime Minister Washington Missig urged people to evacuate. “Storms are unpredictable,” he said in a statement from London, where he attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. “So you should take every precaution to ensure your safety.”

Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph (185 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph), the hurricane center said, adding that the storm will strengthen to a Category 4 hurricane as it nears Bermuda. Friday.

Rain was still falling in parts of Puerto Rico on Tuesday, where the sounds of people sweeping, mopping and spraying their homes and streets echoed across the countryside as historic flooding began to recede.

In the central mountain town of Caye, the Plateau River burst its banks, engulfing cars and houses in brown water, with overturned dressers, beds and large refrigerators scattered across people’s yards on Tuesday.

“Puerto Rico is not ready for this or anything,” said Mariangi Hernandez, a 48-year-old housewife who doubts the government will help her community of 300 in the long run. Streets and electricity return. “It’s only for a couple of days, and then they’ll forget about us.”

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She and her husband were standing in line for the National Guard to clear a landslide in their hilly area.

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“Is it open? Is it open?” asked a worried driver that the road would be completely closed.

Other drivers asked the National Guard if they could swing by their homes to help cut trees or clear mud and debris.

The cleanup efforts came on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which struck in 2017 as a Category 4 storm and knocked out power in parts of the Caye for a year.

Jeannette Soto, a 34-year-old copier, worried that crews would take too long to restore power after a landslide knocked out a neighborhood main light.

“This is the first time this has happened,” he said of the landslides. “We didn’t expect the amount of rain to be this big.”

Governor Pedro Pierluzzi requested a major disaster declaration on Tuesday and said it would take at least a week for officials to assess the damage caused by Fiona.

He said the damage from the rain, particularly in the central, southern and southeastern parts of the island, was “catastrophic”.

“The impact of the cyclone has been devastating for many people,” he said.

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.

The widespread storm continued to dump rain on the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where a 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio.

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Another death was linked to the power outage — a 70-year-old man was burned to death while trying to fill his generator with gasoline, officials said.

Some parts of the island received 25 inches (64 centimeters) of rain and more on Tuesday.

National Guard Brig. General Narciso Cruz described the flood as historic.

“There were communities that flooded in the storm that didn’t flood under Maria,” he said, noting that the 2017 hurricane caused nearly 3,000 deaths. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Cruz said 670 people had been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 in a nursing home in Caye that was in danger of collapsing.

“Rivers burst their banks and shut down communities,” he said.

Some were rescued by barges and boats, while others were hoisted to higher ground by nesting in a large shovel.

He lamented that initially some refused to leave their homes and said he understood why.

“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw that their lives were in danger, they agreed to leave.”

With Puerto Rico still reeling from Hurricane Maria, Fiona’s blow was even more devastating.It destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered in blue tarps.

U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that he would push the federal government for 100% of disaster response spending — instead of the usual 75% — as part of an emergency disaster declaration.

“At this time, we need to make sure that everything that Puerto Rico needs, as soon as possible, as long as they need it,” he said.

At least 1,220 people and more than 70 pets are staying in shelters, officials said Tuesday. across the island.

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The blackout occurred when Fiona hit the southwestern corner of Puerto Rico on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which hit the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.

By Tuesday morning, officials said they had restored power to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Puerto Rico’s governor has warned that it could take days to restore power to everyone.

Water service was cut off for more than 760,000 customers — about two-thirds of all customers on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or no power, officials said.

Fiona was forecast to weaken before making a run into eastern Canada over the weekend. It is not expected to threaten the US mainland.

In the Dominican Republic, authorities reported two deaths: a 68-year-old man from a falling tree and an 18-year-old woman who was struck by a fallen power pole while riding a motorcycle. The storm forced more than 1,550 people to seek safety in government shelters and left more than 406,500 homes without power.

Several highways were blocked by the cyclone, and a tourist site in Mich. was badly damaged by high waves. Officials said at least four international airports were closed.

Dominican President Luis Abinador said officials would need several days to assess the storm’s effects.

Fiona earlier hit the eastern Caribbean, killing one person in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floods washed away his home, officials said.

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Associated Press reporters Martin Adams in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, and Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico contributed.

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