Hurricane Fiona increased in strength to a Category 3 storm on Tuesday after hitting Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.
The National Hurricane Center said Fiona could become more powerful as it approaches Bermuda later in the week.
Rising global temperatures are contributing to more intense storms, according to a growing body of research.
Hurricane Fiona swept through Puerto Rico as a Category 1 storm on Sunday, cutting power to the island’s 3 million residents and leaving most of them without water.
“We woke up without water. Most people don’t have electricity, but luckily I have solar panels. There are long lines for gas to power generators,” Ruth Santiago, an environmental lawyer and advocate living in the southeastern city of Salinas. Puerto lives Rico, Insider told Tuesday morning in Spanish.
But Tuesday, after tearing through the Dominican Republic, Fiona strengthened to a Category 3 with sustained winds of 115 miles per hour. This makes it the first major hurricane of the 2022 season.
It is expected to bring “hurricane conditions” to Turks and Caicos and parts of the Bahamas, according to the National Hurricane Center. The center said it could strengthen further into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda later in the week.
In Puerto Rico, the storm caused severe flash flooding, with one weather station reporting more than 2 feet of rain in 24 hours. Officials said more than 900 people across the island have been rescued and at least 1,300 have spent the night in shelters, according to The Associated Press. “There is water everywhere,” Santiago said, adding that one of the offices where she works was flooded after the roof collapsed.
“Localized additional flashes and urban flooding are possible in southern parts of Puerto Rico,” the National Weather Service warned, adding that another 1 to 4 inches of rain will fall over much of Puerto Rico Wednesday morning.
FEMA officials said the agency is currently in the response phase. “We really emphasize that all affected individuals are looking to the local emergency managers and focusing on safety, making sure they watch out for flooding,” Keith Turi, FEMA’s assistant administrator for recovery, told reporters on Tuesday afternoon. “This is still a life-saving mission right now, and that’s our focus.”
“We will be sending hundreds of additional employees in the coming days and we will continue to assess the need,” added Turi. “We have a few 100 first responders already on the scene” in Puerto Rico.
On Sunday, the entire island was without power at one point. According to LUMA Energy — the private company that operates electricity transmission and distribution in Puerto Rico — had recovered for more than 286,000 customers as of Tuesday, 6:30 a.m. ET. The company said it could take days to fully restore the service.
“I hope the government — both the Puerto Rican government and the FEMA — build solar panels so that people, like me, can have electricity in these kinds of disasters,” Santiago said.
Jose Luis German Mejia, an emergency management official, told CNN that more than a million people in the country are without running water after the storm took 59 aqueducts out of service.
On Tuesday, FEMA officials told reporters that there were four confirmed fatalities after the storm. CNN reported that a 58-year-old man was washed away by the La Plata River behind his home in Comerío. In a separate incident, firefighters in the city of Arecibo said a man died of burns after trying to fill his generator with gasoline.
The storm has killed at least one man in Guadeloupe and one person in the Dominican Republic after being hit by a falling tree, The New York Times reports.
The blow from Hurricane Fiona was made even more devastating as Puerto Rico has not yet fully recovered from Hurricane Maria of 2017. “If the government hasn’t learned their lesson with Maria, I hope this disaster wakes them up to our reality,” Santiago said. .
Man-made climate change makes hurricanes like Fiona more dangerous, according to a growing body of research. Earth’s warmer and more humid atmosphere and warmer oceans provide fuel for hurricanes, leading to more intense rainfall and wind speeds.
This story has been updated with new information.
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