March 31, 2023

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) – Dozens of families across Puerto Rico were stranded after Hurricane Fiona destroyed roads and bridges, with authorities still struggling to reach people four days after the storm hit the U.S. territory, causing historic flooding.

For now, government officials are working with religious groups, nonprofits and others to deliver food, water and medicine on foot through mudslides, thick mud and broken asphalt, but they are under pressure to clear a path so vehicles can enter in isolation. area soon.

Nino Correa, commissioner of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas that were isolated by Fiona, which struck as a Category 1 hurricane and was up to Category 4 strength as it headed toward Bermuda on Wednesday.

In one of those areas lives Manuel Veguila, who hasn’t been able to leave his neighborhood in the northern mountain town of Caguas since Fiona jumped in on Sunday.

“We’re all isolated,” she said, adding that she worries about elderly neighbors, including her older brother, who don’t have the strength to walk long distances to reach nearby communities.

Veguila heard that municipal officials could open a path Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because he said large rocks covered a nearby bridge and 10-feet below it.

Neighbors shared food and water dropped off by nonprofit groups, and an elderly woman’s son was able to bring back basic supplies on foot Wednesday, he said.

Veguila said that after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago and killed nearly 3,000 people, he and others used picks and shovels to clear debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing a massive landslide.

“I can’t throw this stone over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguila had no water or electricity service, but said there was a natural water source nearby.

Fiona triggered an island-wide blackout when it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which is already trying to recover from a series of powerful earthquakes in recent years. About 70% of 1.47 million customers were without power three days after the storm amid an extreme heat warning issued by the National Weather Service. About 40% of customers, or more than half a million, had no water service.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency sent hundreds of additional workers to help local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and declared a public health emergency on the island.

Local or federal government officials did not provide any damage estimates as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the storm, which dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 1,000 people remain in shelters.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much over the past few years,” said Brad Kizerman, Red Cross vice president of operations and logistics.

After Puerto Rico, Fiona pummeled the Dominican Republic and then crossed the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened into a Category 4 storm. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, although the storm’s eye moved close to the British territory’s capital island of Grand Turk on Tuesday.

“God has been good to us and kept us safe during this time when we could have had a worse outcome,” said Deputy Governor Anya Williams.

Fiona was forecast to approach Bermuda early Friday and then hit eastern Canada early Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said.

Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) late Wednesday, the center said. It was centered about 550 miles (885 km) southwest of Bermuda, moving north at 10 miles (17 km). It was forecast to approach Bermuda early Friday morning.

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