Hurricane Fiona is still gaining strength as it continues its catastrophic path north on Wednesday, leaving behind devastated communities in Puerto Rico, Turks and Caicos and the Dominican Republic, which must now begin the recovery process.
Fiona, which was upgraded to a major Category 3 storm early Wednesday, is expected to strengthen to a Category 4 as it moves away from the Turks and Caicos on Wednesday and heads toward Bermuda by the end of the week, according to the National Hurricane Center forecast. .
After making landfall in Puerto Rico on Sunday, the storm crossed the island and then entered the Dominican Republic, causing severe flooding and critical damage to water and power infrastructure. Most people on the islands were immediately without power or water, officials said.
In the Turks and Caicos, a hurricane warning was issued on Tuesday and residents were asked to stay put as winds of nearly 125 miles per hour – and even higher gusts – lashed the islands, according to Britain’s Department of Disaster Management. Emergencies
Several parts of Turks and Caicos experienced island-wide power outages, including Grand Turk, South Caicos, Salt Cay, North Caicos and Middle Caicos, Deputy Governor Anya Williams said.
The emergency management department warned Tuesday afternoon that storm surge could cause water levels to rise 5 to 8 feet above normal tide. It also warned beachgoers that Fiona’s impact could create “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions”.
While Williams reported no deaths or serious injuries in Turks and Caicos as of Tuesday afternoon, at least five deaths were reported elsewhere in the Caribbean.
Two people died in the Dominican Republic, according to the country’s emergency operations center: 18-year-old Aurielys Esther Jimenez was hit by a falling power pole while riding a motorcycle and a man was killed by a tree blown down by strong winds.
One person was reported dead on the French island of Guadeloupe, although officials did not provide further details. In Puerto Rico, at least two have died, including 58-year-old Gilberto Ayala Aponte, who was swept away by a flooded river, and 70-year-old José Cruz Román, who died in a fire accident while trying to fill his generator, Puerto. Governor Pedro Pierluisi Rico said.
Fiona moved away from the Turks and Caicos Tuesday night, with sustained winds of up to 125 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center.
The storm is expected to continue moving north through Wednesday, before turning northeast and beginning to approach Bermuda, the NHC said.
The Bermuda Weather Service has issued a tropical storm watch ahead of the hurricane’s approach. Fiona’s center is expected to pass 150 to 200 kilometers from Bermuda, but an increase in the storm’s size could mean the island could be hit by tropical storm conditions.
The US State Department issued a travel advisory on Tuesday asking US citizens to reconsider travel to Bermuda due to the potential impact of the storm. The department also allowed family members of US government employees to leave the island ahead of the storm.
“U.S. citizens of Bermuda wishing to leave the island should leave now, before the arrival of Hurricane Fiona,” the advisory reads. “U.S. citizens in Bermuda who require immediate emergency services should contact local authorities.”
Many in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic are still dealing with the effects of the storm and will likely face a long relief and recovery process.
After an island-wide blackout left Puerto Rico’s 3.1 million residents without power, only about 300,000 customers had power restored as of Tuesday afternoon, according to LUMA Energy, the private company that operates the island’s power grid.
Governor Pierluisi said he expects electricity to be restored to “a large part of the population” by late Wednesday, except for the worst-hit southern region of the island.
Access to clean water remains a major concern in both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. About 60 percent of water customers in Puerto Rico were without service Tuesday morning, according to the island’s water utility.
“Without power, you know, we can deal with it and deal with it. The biggest concern is with our water. You can’t live without water,” Puerto Rico resident Carlos Vargas Cayey told CNN’s Leyla Santiago.
Nearly 2 million customers in the Dominican Republic were also without water Tuesday evening, according to Juan Méndez García, director general of the country’s emergency operations center.
As a result of the storm, more than 600 homes have been destroyed and 12 community benefits have been withdrawn, García said. He also said that at least 23 roads and 18 bridges were damaged.
The storm is a devastating blow to Puerto Rico, which was still recovering from the 2017 Hurricane Maria that tore through the island, causing extensive damage to infrastructure, destroying homes and leaving thousands dead.
On Tuesday, the 5-year anniversary of Maria’s landfall in Puerto Rico, Governor Pierluisi said Fiona’s damage was “devastating” and “catastrophic” in the central, southern and southeastern parts of the island. But the extent of the damage has yet to emerge, the governor said, adding that he and officials have been surveying the island to get the full picture.
Across Puerto Rico, more than 1,200 people were in dozens of shelters Tuesday, according to the governor.
Emergency crews are battling mudslides and flooding conditions that are blocking access to parts of the power grid, as well as heavily damaged and remote areas in need of supplies, CNN’s Leyla Santiago reports in Puerto Rico.
About 200 families were stranded in the Barros sector of the island because a bridge was destroyed, according to the governor.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to assess the damage and determine what additional federal assistance is needed, according to a news release.
“In the coming days we will be sending hundreds of additional personnel to staff each affected community to complement our already extensive footprint,” Criswell said in a statement.
Signs of an immediate recovery are emerging, however, as utility workers are expected to return to work on Wednesday, if they are able to do so safely, Governor Pierluisi said. Public ground transportation is also expected to resume in some urban areas on Wednesday, officials said.
Schools are also being inspected to determine when students can safely return, a process the governor said will be “gradual.”