SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Hurricane Fiona threatened to strengthen into a Category 4 storm on Wednesday as it ravaged the Turks and Caicos Islands and is expected to push past Bermuda later this week.
The storm was accused of causing at least four immediate deaths on its march through the Caribbean, where it unleashed torrential rains in Puerto Rico, leaving a majority without power or water as hundreds of thousands of people scraped mud from their homes according to what authorities described as “historic” floods.
Power company officials initially said it would take a few days for electricity to be fully restored, but appeared to be turning back late Tuesday night.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generation facilities across the island. We want to make it very clear that efforts to recover and regenerate energy continue and are affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, fallen trees, deteriorating equipment and downed pipes,” said Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution. .
The hum of generators could be heard all over the island as people became increasingly annoyed, with some still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which struck as a Category 4 storm five years ago, killing an estimated 2,975 people in the aftermath.
Luis Noguera, who helped clear up a landslide in the central mountain town of Cayey, said Maria left him without power for a year.
“We paid an electrician out of pocket to hook us up,” he recalls, adding that he doesn’t think the government will help much after Fiona.
Long lines were reported at several gas stations in Puerto Rico, and some drove off a main road to get water from a stream.
“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but this was worse,” said Gerardo Rodríguez, who lives in the southern coastal town of Salinas.
More than 64 centimeters of rain had fallen on parts of the island and more had fallen on Tuesday.
At the end of Tuesday, authorities said they had restored power to nearly 300,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers, while water supply had been cut to more than 760,000 customers – two-thirds of the island’s total.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday when the agency announced it would send hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.
Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency on the island and deployed a number of teams to US territory.
In the Turks and Caicos, officials reported minimal damage and no deaths, despite the eye of the storm that passed close to Grand Turk, the British territory’s small capital island, on Tuesday morning.
The government had imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas.
“Turks and Caicos have had a phenomenal experience in the past 24 hours,” said Vice Governor Anya Williams. “It certainly came with its share of challenges.”
Late Tuesday night, Fiona was about 155 kilometers north of the NORTH CAICOS ISLAND, with hurricane strength extending as far as 45 kilometers from the center. It had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 km/h) and was moving north at 8 mph (13 km/h), according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm would likely strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane if it approaches Bermuda on Friday.
The storm killed a man in the French Caribbean territory of Guadeloupe, another man in Puerto Rico swept away by a swollen river and two people in the Dominican Republic: one killed by a falling tree and the other by a falling power pole.
Associated Press videographer Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.