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Hurricane Fiona hits Puerto Rico, leaves millions without power

Most of the island of Puerto Rico was without power on Sunday as Hurricane Fiona hit the territory, causing severe flooding and landslides before hitting the Dominican Republic, a government agency said.

The storm’s center made landfall on Puerto Rico’s southwest coast near Punta Tocon at 3:20 pm ET with maximum sustained winds of about 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour, clearing the boundary for a Category 1 hurricane, the report said. National Hurricane Center.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC) said the storm was causing “catastrophic flooding” early Sunday night.

Electricity was initially completely out of power across the island of 3.3 million people, LUMA Energy, the island’s grid operator and Puerto Rico’s energy authority, said Sunday afternoon. Overnight, officials said some power had begun to be restored, but reconnecting the entire island would take several days.

At a press conference in the capital San Juan on Sunday night, LUMA spokesman Abner Gomez said the entire electrical system had been shut down to protect its infrastructure. Some power was being restored with priority to hospitals and other critical community services, he said.

“This was catastrophic,” Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at the press conference. “We are responding to the emergency as weather conditions allow.”

Several landslides were reported, officials said. Roads were closed and a road bridge in Utuado, a town in the center of the island, was washed away by a flooding river.

Puerto Rico’s ports were closed and flights from the main airport cancelled. Torrential rain and landslides are also forecast for the Dominican Republic as the storm moves northwest, with the Turks and Caicos Islands likely to experience tropical storm conditions on Tuesday, the NHC said.

“These rains will produce catastrophic flash floods and urban flooding in Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic,” the agency said.

US President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, a move that authorizes the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide emergency protection measures.

US Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said agency staff deployed to Puerto Rico will assist with restoration efforts “as it becomes safe to do so.”

The rains have increased in intensity since Sunday morning, along with strong gusts of wind, residents said.

Denise Rios, who lives in the southwestern city of Hormigueros, said she lost power after a strong gust of wind and rain that started around noon.

“Since then, it hasn’t stopped,” she said. “It is raining a lot and the wind is blowing hard. I am calm but alert.”

A wide swath of Puerto Rico is predicted to receive 12 to 16 inches (30 to 40 cm) of rain, while parts can be hit by up to 25 inches (63.5 cm), according to the NHC.

Puerto Rico’s grid remains fragile after Hurricane Maria in September 2017 caused the biggest blackout in US history. In that Category 5 storm, 1.5 million customers lost electricity with 80% of power lines down.

Authorities opened more than 100 shelters and closed beaches and casinos, and residents were urged to seek shelter.

One death linked to Fiona has been reported so far, on the French Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. Authorities said a man was found dead on Saturday after his home was swept away by floods. France will recognize a state of natural disaster for Guadeloupe, President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter on Sunday.

Source: CNN Brasil

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