Hurricane Fiona Causes ‘Catastrophic’ Damage in Puerto Rico

The island faces major blackouts, and it could be several days before all the lights are back on

A flooded road in Villa Blanca, Puerto Rico, due to Hurricane Fiona
A flooded road in Villa Blanca, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 18, 2022 due to Hurricane Fiona.  Jose Rodriguez/AFP via Getty Images

Most of Puerto Rico remains without power after Hurricane Fiona struck the island on Sunday. Heavy rains and flooding continued into Monday morning, and it could be several days until full power is restored, reports the New York Times Daniel Victor.

According to Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi, the storm has caused “catastrophic” damage in urban areas and has killed multiple people, reports the Washington Post’s Arelis R. Hernández, Jason Samenow and Praveena Somasundaram.

On Sunday, the storm’s center made landfall at 3:20 p.m. Eastern time with maximum sustained winds of 85 miles per hour, writes ReutersIvelisse Rivera and Ezequiel Abiu Lopez. Fiona is expected to dump at least 12 to 18 inches of rain across Puerto Rico, with the island’s eastern and southern regions getting as much as 30 inches, according to NPR’s Juliana Kim.

Eyewitnesses reported torn-up asphalt from roads, a washed-away bridge, closed airports and rivers rising as much as 20 feet, per Reuters.

By late Sunday, close to 200,000 residents didn’t have drinkable water, more than 1,000 people had been evacuated from their homes and 20 percent of cell phone towers weren’t working due to the storm, per NBC News’ Julianne McShane and Dennis Romero.

According to the island’s power company, LUMA, electricity was restored for about 100,000 customers overnight, writes the Times. Still, roughly 1.3 million customers remained in the dark Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us. LUMA spokesperson Abner Gomez said in a Sunday night press conference that hospitals and other critical community services were given priority for power restoration, per Reuters. Pierluisi said that restoring electricity in critical areas will be a “gradual process,” per NPR.

Lee-Ann Ingles-Serrano, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Puerto Rico’s capital city of San Juan, tells the Times that Monday’s rain “will not be comparable to what we had yesterday, but it will be enough to exacerbate the problems that we have in some parts of the island.” These rains could cause life-threatening floods, mudslides and landslides, per the Times.

President Biden declared an emergency in Puerto Rico on Sunday, authorizing the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief efforts for Fiona, writes NPR.

The island is still recovering from Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico in 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people. The blackout that followed Maria lasted for 11 months, per NBC News. More than 3,000 homes still have blue tarps for roofs, writes Dánica Coto of the Associated Press. Maria destroyed the island’s power grid, and outages are still common five years later.

Climate change is exacerbating the frequency and toll of hurricanes. Warming can bring about higher winds and more rain, and it leads to storms that move more slowly, spending more time causing damage, Veronica Penney wrote for the New York Times in June. Climate change is also widening the range of areas where hurricanes can form and creating conditions where those storms can intensify more rapidly.

On Monday morning, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic, slamming the country with maximum sustained winds of 90 miles per hour, according to the National Hurricane Center. There, the storm could cause flooding, mudslides, landslides and up to 12 inches of rain, per CNN’s Elizabeth Wolfe, Melissa Alonso and Holly Yan.

After the storm passes the Dominican Republic and moves over warmer water, meteorologists expect it to grow stronger. Though it appears to be heading far away from the mainland U.S., Hurricane Fiona could cause rip currents along East coast beaches beginning late Wednesday, warns the National Weather Service in a tweet.