Hurricane Fiona strengthened into a Category 4 storm Wednesday after devastating Puerto Rico, then lashing the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands. It was forecast to squeeze past Bermuda later this week.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Wednesday afternoon and it was centered about 650 miles southwest of Bermuda, heading north at 8 mph.
It was likely to approach Bermuda late Thursday and then Canada’s Atlantic provinces late Friday. The U.S. State Department issued an advisory Tuesday night telling U.S. citizens to “reconsider travel” to Bermuda.
The storm has been blamed for directly causing at least four deaths in its march through the Caribbean, where winds and torrential rain in Puerto Rico left a majority of people on the U.S. territory without power or running water. Hundreds of thousands of people scraped mud out of their homes following what authorities described as “historic” flooding.
Power company officials initially said it would take a few days for electricity to be fully restored, but then appeared to backtrack late Tuesday night. As of Wednesday afternoon, three days after Fiona hit the island, roughly 70% of customers lacked electricity, according to government figures.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generation facilities throughout the island. We want to make it very clear that efforts to restore and reenergize continue and are being affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, deteriorating equipment, and downed lines,” said Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said, “I continue to hope that by the end of today, a large part of the population will have these services.”
Pierluisi tweeted Wednesday afternoon that the federal government had approved a major disaster declaration request in response to Fiona. Earlier Wednesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) had said the request was still under review. President Biden on Sunday approved an emergency declaration for the hurricane.
Deanne Criswell, the head of FEMA, traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday as the agency announced it was sending hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response efforts.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services also declared a public health emergency on the island and deployed a couple of teams to the island.
The storm killed a man in the French overseas territory of Guadeloupe, another man in Puerto Rico who was 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 electric post.
Two additional deaths were reported in Puerto Rico as a result of the blackout: A 70-year-old man burned to death after he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running and a 78-year-old man police say inhaled toxic gases emitted from his generator.
The hum of generators could be heard across the territory as people became increasingly exasperated. Some were still trying to recover from Hurricane Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 storm five years ago, causing the deaths of an estimated 2,975 people.
Luis Noguera, who was helping clear a landslide in the central mountain town of Cayey, said Maria left him without power for a year. Officials themselves didn’t declare full resumption of service until 11 months after Maria hit.
“We paid an electrician out of our own pocket to connect us,” he recalled, adding that he doesn’t think the government will be of much help again after Fiona.
Long lines were reported at several gas stations across Puerto Rico, and some pulled off a main highway to collect 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.
Parts of the island had received more than 25 inches of rain and more had fallen on Tuesday.
By late Tuesday, authorities said they had restored power to nearly 380,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers. Piped water service was initially knocked out for most of the island’s users due to lack of power and turbid water at filtration plants, but 55% had service Wednesday morning.
On Wednesday, the National Weather Service in San Juan issued a heat advisory for several cities because a majority of people on the island of 3.2 million remain without power.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday he would push for the federal government to cover 100% of disaster response costs — instead of the usual 75% — as part of an emergency disaster declaration.
“We need to make sure this time, Puerto Rico has absolutely everything it needs, as soon as possible, for as long as they need it,” he said.
Many Americans hadn’t heard from family members who didn’t have electricity.
Palm Beach County, Florida, resident Nancy Valentin told CBS News, “I haven’t been able to talk to my mom and see how she’s doing.”
At Boston’s Logan Airport, those arriving from Puerto Rico recounted their fear of drowning in Fiona’s floodwaters.
Yolanda Rivera told CBS News, “We stayed in one room in a little corner that was safe, for a whole night no light or nothing. The place was so dark.”
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported minimal damage and no deaths despite the storm’s eye passing close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, on Tuesday morning.
The government had imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas.
“Turks and Caicos had a phenomenal experience over the past 24 hours,” said Deputy Gov. Anya Williams. “It certainly came with its share of challenges.”