Hurricane Fiona’s torrential rains and winds have left catastrophic flooding, dozens of citizens trapped, hundreds of families isolated by landslides, an unknown amount of structures affected, and roads closed since Sunday in Puerto Rico, as the island is still trying to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane María five years ago.
Even before the eye of the hurricane made landfall at 3:20 p.m. Sunday, between the municipalities of Lajas and Cabo Rojo, the island was already feeling its strong effects. Although Fiona continues its trajectory towards the Dominican Republic, rains continued affecting large areas of Puerto Rico on Monday night.
More than 24 hours after the hurricane hit the island, government officials indicated that it is currently in the emergency response phase. “The damage to infrastructure, urban centers, and residences has been catastrophic”, said Governor Pedro Pierluisi. At this time local authorities do not yet have an estimate of damages.
This is the situation 24 hours after Hurricane Fiona struck the island:
So far, authorities have recorded one direct death associated with the hurricane. The victim, a 58-year-old man, reportedly slipped behind his residence and then was swept away by a body of water in Comerío. The events happened near the neighborhood of Cedrito.
Three people died as an indirect result of the emergency. Two of the deaths happened in shelters as a result of natural causes, authorities reported. Meanwhile, a 70-year-old man died Monday morning when an electric generator he was trying to turn on exploded in his home, in the Hato Arriba neighborhood in Arecibo. The man was identified as José Cruz Román. The victim’s wife suffered burns to her face and arms while trying to help him.
Some 906 people had to be evacuated or rescued by the National Guard from the moment the hurricane made landfall until Monday morning, according to General José Reyes, adjutant general of the Puerto Rico National Guard.
The figure continues to rise as rains are projected to keep affecting the Island until Tuesday. The area from Ponce to Cabo Rojo, including the mountain towns of Jayuya and Utuado, received some of the worse impact. The National Guard had to recover vehicles swept away by rains or bodies water and help with emergencies caused by the flooding in homes.
Only about 100,074 LUMA Energy customers had electric power service at about 12:25 p.m. on Monday, according to the company’s press spokesman, Hugo Sorrentini. The areas with electricity at that time were the municipalities of Toa Alta, Toa Baja, San Juan metropolitan area, Bayamón, and Corozal. Meanwhile, 72.94 percent of the customers - nearly 1,070,904 - remained in the dark. Before the center of Fiona made landfall, a general power outage was recorded shortly after 1:00 p.m. yesterday, causing some 1.5 million customers to be left in the dark amid the emergency.
An estimated 837,117 customers of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (AAA, for its acronym in Spanish) were without drinking water service at midday today. Specifically, only 427,257 homes had drinking water service, 34 percent of the 1,264,374 customers of the public utility. AAA’s executive director, Doriel Pagán Crespo, explained that the lack of service responds to high turbidity in most of the water bodies used by the agency to extract water, as well as the lack of power. The island’s main filtration plants, Sergio Cuevas at the Carraízo reservoir and Enrique Ortega de La Plata, are not operating.
Meanwhile, a total of 2,146 people and 254 pets have gone to a shelter up until the morning of Monday, said the governor. Sunday afternoon, the figure stood at 1,033 citizens in shelters with 89 pets. The government has 128 shelters open. Aibonito, Florida, Barceloneta, and Hatillo have no people sheltered but have facilities for such purposes available.
On the other hand, municipalities in southeastern Puerto Rico were affected by around 18 and 25 inches of rain in the past 24 hours, an estimate that is increasing due to the rainfall recorded Monday. Governor Pedro Pierluisi said that in some areas rain reached up to 30 inches. ”There are many areas that have never suffered flooding before, there has been an unprecedented accumulation of water. In fact, in many areas rains have been heavier than what we saw with Hurricane María,” he said at a press conference. Forecasters anticipate that rains will continue until Tuesday night.
Meanwhile, 90 percent of the plantain and banana crops from Yabucoa to Añasco were destroyed. It could take between 10 months to a year to recover them. The secretary of the Department of Agriculture, Ramón González Beiró, confirmed that there are other crops affected by the rain, such as vegetables -now underwater-, citrus fruits and papayas. “There are farms with no access due to the rains. It has caused substantial damage in the agricultural sector. In Sabana Grande, some greenhouse structures fell. We are waiting for reports from Aibonito and Barranquitas,” the official said. “In Yabucoa, the Guayanés River flooded the Yabucoa Valley and we may have lost beef cattle.” According to the Secretary, a farmer in this area informed him early this morning of the loss of 150 head of cattle.
In the case of coffee, he explained, crops that were about to be harvested were lost. In Adjuntas, this year’s coffee harvest was going to be the largest after Hurricane María, but it was wiped out, said Mayor Hiram Soto Rivera. González Beiró did not specify the amount of the losses in the agricultural sector, but he said that in the plantain and banana crops losses could reach the millions.
AMA and Urban Train
The Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA, for its acronym in Spanish) suspended its services until further notice. Meanwhile, the Urban Train does not have electricity to begin operating.
Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport began operating again at noon Monday. However, Aerostar’s president, Jorge Hernández, anticipated possible delays in the departures and delays in the lines at the security checkpoints, as a result of limited human resources in the airlines, federal agencies, and other airport areas. All passengers must confirm with their airline before arriving at the airport.
School and work
Due to the emergency, public schools and government offices - for those officials who do not perform essential work - have been suspended for Tuesday. Meanwhile, classes and administrative work at the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) will resume next Thursday, September 22. Meanwhile, the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico suspended academic activities until Monday, September 26. The Interamerican University suspended classes and administrative activities until Tuesday as well.
Wireless services remained operating on Sunday as hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, however, service to municipalities in the central and eastern areas was interrupted before noon. At 11:00 a.m. yesterday, 7 percent of the 2,342 cell sites in the area were out of service, according to the report issued by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). With 17 to 33 percent of the cell sites out of service, Aguas Buenas, Aibonito, Cayey, Cidra, Coamo, Comerío, Culebra, Fajardo, Gurabo, Juncos, Orocovis, Salinas, Vieques, Villalba and Yabucoa were the most affected at first. Telecommunications companies did not suffer major damage to their optic fiber networks or antennas. Meanwhile, cellphone service may be unstable in areas without power if more than one antenna goes out of service when emergency generators run out of fuel.