El techo de un garage de gasolina en Ponce, no aguantó la fuerza de los vientos del huracán Fiona.
El techo de un garage de gasolina en Ponce, no aguantó la fuerza de los vientos del huracán Fiona. (Ramón “Tonito” Zayas)

Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico´s southern and southwestern areas, making landfall between Lajas and Cabo Rojo, destroying structures with gusty winds of up to 103 miles per hour and causing flooding and landslides due to the rainfall of between 8 and 13 inches, in what is already shaping up as a catastrophe of multi-million dollar losses.

Fiona, with effects throughout Puerto Rico that anticipate a long recovery process, also triggered widespread power outage, also impacted maritime conditions, and left at least 1,325 refugees, a figure expected to increase last night.

Due to flooding, hundreds of people were evacuated and rescued by the National Guard and municipal authorities in towns such as Caguas, Cayey, Maunabo, Yabucoa, Salinas, Guayama, and Bayamón, among others.

In Utuado, families were cut off due to the collapse of two bridges; and dozens of roads remained blocked due to landslides and downed trees and poles.

Governor Pedro Pierluisi said he will begin the damage assessment today to have a detailed picture in the next few days.

The National Hurricane Center indicated that “Hurricane Fiona made landfall along the southwestern coast of Puerto Rico near Punta Tocón at 3:20 pm AST. Maximum sustained winds at landfall were 85 mph (140 km/h) with a pressure of 986 mb (29.12 in Hg)”. Fiona was the first hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since María, whose fifth anniversary is tomorrow.

The 103 mph winds were recorded in Ponce, said Ernesto Morales, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. He added that rains will continue today and possibly tomorrow and could accumulate up to 30 inches. President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration yesterday, which will allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to coordinate all disaster relief efforts and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures.

No significant incidents were recorded in the east and northwest by press time. Mayors in the south and southwest areas had not been able to go out to update their damage reports because conditions were still difficult. “This is a disaster.”

Earlier, San Germán Mayor Virgilio Olivera anticipated that Fiona’s effects in the southwest would be devastating. By 5:00 p.m., the Guanajibo and Duey rivers were out of their banks and most of the roads in this town were blocked. “This is a disaster, honestly. The situation in this area is going to be very bad,” he lamented.

While his counterpart in Maricao, Wilfredo Ruiz, said that 300 to 400 families in his municipality and Sabana Grande were cut off because the PR-120 highway, which connects the two towns, was blocked.

Olivera, Ruiz, and the mayor of Lajas, Jayson Maldonado, regretted that few citizens responded to the call to go to the shelters, despite living in flood-prone areas, landslides, and other threats.

In Guánica and Yauco, mayors Ismael “Titi” Rodríguez and Ángel Luis Torres, respectively, expressed concerns about Fiona’s impact on the structures already affected by the 2020 earthquakes. In both towns, there are families still waiting for new residences.

”We are a municipality already hit by previous earthquakes and hurricanes, and that is one of our concerns. But, we are also resilient people and we´ve learned from those experiences,” Rodríguez said.

On the other hand, the mayor of Maunabo, Ángel Omar Lafuente, said that in the Hemajagua community, winds have ripped off the roof of a 70-year-old man´s wooden house. This man was not hurt and was taken to a relative’s house.

Lafuente added that personnel from the Maunabo Municipal Emergency Management Office (OMME, Spanish acronym) rescued a family that was trapped on PR-759. He said that as water from the Maunabo River was entering their home, they decided to leave, but were trapped.

The National Guard and the Salinas OMME evacuated part of the communities of Playa, Playita, and the Las Margaritas housing development because the Nigua River threatened to overflow.

Carlos Reyes, director of the Guayama Zone of the Bureau of Emergency Management and Administration, added that some 20 people were also evacuated in the Mosquito community in that town due to the storm surge.

In Juana Díaz, six families also lost their roofs in the Jacaguas, Arús, Río Cañas Arriba, and Río Cañas Abajo neighborhoods said OMME director Ángel Feliciano. He said that access to houses was difficult due to downed trees on the roads.

Meanwhile, in Villalba, Jayuya, and Adjuntas, the concern was landslides due to the rains.

Gerardo E. Alvarado contributed to this story.

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