Bermuda, Canada braces for the storm as Puerto Rico struggles

SAN SALVADOR, Puerto Rico– Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces were bracing for the outbreak of Hurricane Fiona even as Puerto Rican authorities struggled Thursday to open roads for people left stranded and without electricity from the devastating blow of the storm.

The storm should still have been Category 4 when it passes close to Bermuda overnight and its outer bands were already reaching British territory in the early afternoon.

It is likely to still be dangerously powerful when it reaches Canada’s Atlantic provinces, probably late Friday, as a post-tropical cyclone.

“It’s going to be a very big storm when it lands,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Center. “This will cover a fairly large area.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of people in Puerto Rico were left off the road four days after the hurricane hit U.S. territory, and frustration has increased for people like Nancy Galarza, who has tried to seek help from work crews who spotted in the distance.

“Everyone goes over there,” he said pointing to where the crews at the bottom of the mountain were also helping others cut off from the storm. “Nobody comes here to see us. I am worried about all the elders of this community ”.

At least five landslides cover the narrow road to his community in the steep mountains around the northern city of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb over thick hills of mud, rock and debris left by Fiona, whose waters shook the foundations of nearby houses with seismic force.

“The rocks sounded like thunder,” recalled Vanessa Flores, a 47-year-old school janitor. “I’ve never heard of it in my life. It was horrible.”

Officials have worked with religious groups, nonprofits and others to bring food, water and medicine to people in need, but are under pressure to pave the way for vehicles.

At least one elderly woman who relies on oxygen was evacuated Thursday by city officials who were working in pouring rain to clear pathways to the San Salvador community.

Ramiro Figueroa, 63, said his bedridden, 97-year-old, bedridden father refused to leave his home despite urging rescue teams. The road to their homes is blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s pickup truck, which was dragged down the hill during the storm.

National Guard troops and others brought water, cereals, canned peaches and two bottles of apple juice.

“This has helped me tremendously,” Figueroa said as he scanned the devastated landscape, where a river had changed its course and torn the community apart.

At least eight of Caguas’ 11 communities are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal inspector for recovery and reconstruction.

It is one of at least six Puerto Rico municipalities that report crews have yet to reach some areas where people often depend on neighbors’ help, as they did following Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that crashed. on the island and killed nearly 3,000 people in its aftermath.

Miguel Veguilla said that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, he and others in his settlement used picks and shovels to remove debris. But Fiona was different, triggering huge landslides.

“I can’t throw those stones over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of others, Veguilla has no water or electricity, but said there is a natural water source nearby.

Danciel Rivera, 31, arrived in rural Caguas with a church group and tried to bring some cheer by dressing up as a clown.

“This is very important in these moments,” she said, noting that people are still struggling in the aftermath of Maria. “A lot of PTSD has reared its head these days.”

His huge clown shoes screeched in the mud as he waved to people, whose faces lit up as they smiled at him.

Fiona caused an island-wide blackout and about 62 percent of 1.47 million customers were without electricity on Thursday. A third of the customers, or more than 400,000, still did not have the water service.

The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electricity Authority, Josué Colón, said in a press conference that the areas least affected by Fiona should be powered by Friday morning. But officials declined to say when power would be restored in the hardest hit places.

“Our next step is now to focus on the critical load” – service to hospitals and other key infrastructure – said Daniel Hernández, director of renewable energy for Luma Energy, which distributes power in Puerto Rico.

The United States Federal Emergency Management Agency sent hundreds of additional personnel to help, and the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency.

Neither local nor federal government officials had provided an overall estimate of the damage caused by the storm, which in some areas fell as much as 30 inches of rain.

The US center said Fiona experienced maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km / h) on Thursday. She was centered approximately 345 miles (550 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 16 mph (26 km / h).

Hurricane winds extended outward up to 70 miles (110 kilometers) from the center and tropical storm winds extended outward up to 205 miles (335 kilometers).

Bermuda Premier David Burt tweeted urging residents to “take care of themselves and their families. Let us all remember to monitor and pay attention to the elderly, family and neighbors. He stays safe. “

The Canadian Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch for Nova Scotia from Hubbards to Brule, Prince Edward Island, Isle-de-la-Madeleine and the Newfoundland coast from Parson’s Pond to Port-Aux-Basques.

Canadian officials said they were bracing themselves for the possibility of floods, washouts, storm surges and power outages.

Jason Mew, a director of Nova Scotia’s Office of Emergency Management, encouraged residents to fill up with fuel, cut branches from weak trees, and check out their neighbors.

Hurricanes in Canada are quite rare, in part because once storms reach colder Canadian waters, they lose their main source of energy.

The storm has so far been blamed for at least five deaths: two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.

Fiona also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday, but officials reported relatively little damage and no deaths.

———

Associated Press authors Rob Gillies in Toronto and Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico.