Hurricane Fiona reaches category 4 as it moves north, leaving disaster-affected areas on a slow road to recovery

Water is a major concern for residents such as Carlos Vega, whose city of Cayey, in the mountains of east-central Puerto Rico, has faced not only disruptions to public services, but also partially collapsed roads, an effect of severe flooding and over 2 feet of rain that parts of Puerto Rico were affected.

“(Being without) electricity … we can deal with it and we can deal with it. The biggest concern is with our water. We can’t live without water,” Vega told CNN on Tuesday.

Fiona also whipped parts of the Turks and Caicos Islands with sustained winds of nearly 125 mph on Tuesday, officials said. This has left many areas without electricity, including Grand Turk, South Caicos, Salt Cay, North Caicos, and Middle Caicos, she said. Anya Williams, the interim governor of the islands. The authorities were able to start visiting several islands and begin repairs.

No deaths have been reported in Turks and Caicos until Wednesday evening, Williams said in an update.

Fiona’s floods caused critical infrastructure damage especially in Puerto Rico and then the Dominican Republic, which the storm went through on Monday. According to Maj. Gen. Juan Méndez García, director of the country’s emergency operations center, more than 1 million customers in the Dominican Republic were out of water until Wednesday morning and more than 349,000 customers were without electricity.

Meanwhile, parts of Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands of people have been without electricity, have reached heat ratings – how the air feels when temperature and humidity are combined – of 105 to 109 degrees on Wednesday, according to the CNN meteorologist. Rob Shackelford.

The landing in Puerto Rico on Sunday came nearly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, causing thousands of deaths and cutting the electricity and water services of more than 1 million people for what would become months. .

The storm is pressing north and could threaten Bermuda and Atlantic Canada

Fiona, after her center passed Turks and Caicos as a Category 3 storm, strengthened to Category 4 – sustained winds of at least 130 mph – early Wednesday on the Atlantic.
At around 8 p.m. ET on Wednesday, it was centered about 605 miles southwest of Bermuda, heading north with sustained winds of 130 mph, Miami’s National Hurricane Center said.
Fiona is expected to strengthen some overnight on Wednesday and approach Bermuda at the end of Thursday, potentially still as a Category 4 storm, forecasters said.

“Fiona is expected to be a hurricane-strength cyclone until Saturday,” the hurricane center said.

The mighty center of Fiona is currently expected to pass west of Bermuda, saving the British island territory from its worst winds. But sustained winds of at least tropical storm force – 39 to 73 mph – are expected to reach Bermuda by late Thursday or early Friday, the center said.
The US State Department issued a travel notice on Tuesday urging US citizens to reconsider their trip to Bermuda because of the storm. The department also authorized family members of US government personnel to leave the island in anticipation of the storm.

While the storm is not expected to follow near the east coast of the United States, it could generate 8 to 10-foot ground waves over the weekend, CNN meteorologist Chad Myers said Wednesday.

“It’s not a good weekend to go ashore and get in the water – it’s time to get out of the water,” said East Coast Myers.

Fiona could hit portions of Atlantic Canada as a powerful hurricane-force cyclone at the end of Friday and Saturday, potentially pounding the region with high winds, storm surges and heavy rain. A storm surge is expected to raise the water level along the Bermuda coast starting late Thursday.

“Near the coast, the wave will be accompanied by large, destructive waves,” the hurricane center said.

The storm has strengthened in recent days: it landed in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic as a Category 1 hurricane before striking with both external bands as it moved over the water and towards Turks and Caicos as a Category 2 and 3 storm.

“We can’t take it anymore”

Many in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico are still grappling with Fiona’s aftermath and will likely face a protracted rescue and recovery process.

In Nizao, a small town in the south of the Dominican Republic, a woman tearfully told CNN-affiliated Noticias SIN that Fiona’s winds destroyed her home.

The next named storm could be a monstrous hurricane in the Gulf of Mexico

“Thank God my girls (are) safe. I managed to cover them with something and block them with a washing machine,” she told Noticias SIN this week.

Another woman from Nizao, who was cleaning mud from personal belongings, told Noticias SIN she was frustrated because floods often damage the region. This week, she left all of her personal belongings behind when the water invaded the flood, she told her.

“We can’t take it anymore. Every year we lose our bed, clothes, food, everything,” the second woman told Noticias SIN.

More than 610 homes in the Dominican Republic were destroyed and some communities were cut off from aid due to the storm, said García, director of the nation’s emergency operations center.

The governor of Puerto Rico Pedro Pierluisi She said on Twitter Wednesday that the federal government approved a major disaster declaration request for the island, which warrants further help from FEMA.
Although US President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration on Sunday, a major disaster declaration will bring additional resources, primarily individual assistance in the form of funding for housing and other needs, as well as public assistance to provide permanent reconstruction of damaged infrastructure.

The restoration teams face challenges

The governor expected “much of the population” would restore power by the end of Wednesday, with the exception of the southern region of the island, which suffered the most damage, he said on Tuesday.

But the restoration teams faced challenges: Many lines that were thought to have been repaired have been temporarily taken offline due to various equipment problems, according to Josué Colón, executive director of the Puerto Rico Electricity Authority.

Crews may also encounter problems that require a break in work so that an already damaged grid is not overloaded, a spokesman for the energy supplier, LUMA Energy, said Wednesday.

Pierluisi will take an aerial tour of the island with Deanne Criswell, administrator of the Federal Agency for Emergency Management, he said. Criswell arrived on Tuesday to determine what further federal aid is needed and that day he reviewed the damage with the governor in the town of Patillas.

“The community there … (had) badly hit the roads and the bridges were damaged. Water was flooding the roads and … other parts of the community (were) inaccessible,” Criswell said at a news conference Wednesday.

“But I also saw resilient Puerto Rico,” he said. “I met a woman named Anna, who opened her home in her driveway to help create a path for the community. With the bridge blown away, her home became that path to help give food and water to the rest of his community ».

The National Guard directs traffic in Cayey, Puerto Rico, while resident Luis Noguera helps clear the road.

The storm is a catastrophic blow to Puerto Rico, which in some areas was still recovering since Hurricane Maria ripped apart the island in 2017, inflicting infrastructure damage and destroying homes.

The damage caused by Fiona is “devastating” and “catastrophic” in the central, south and south-east regions of the island, Pierluisi said on Tuesday.

Across the island, more than 800 people were housed in dozens of shelters on Wednesday, according to Puerto Rico Housing Secretary William Rodriguez.

CNN’s Leyla Santiagio in Puerto Rico and CNN’s Robert Shackelford, Jamiel Lynch, Amanda Musa, Chris Boyette, Taylor Ward, and Geneva Sands contributed to this report.