Catastrophic. That is probably the best way to describe the carnage that Hurricane Fiona is causing in Puerto Rico, as described by the local governor Pedro Pierluisi on Monday, right after the Category 1 storm knocked out power, sparked landslides and caused gigantic floods on the island. The island is is still reeling from the deadly Hurricane Maria, that also hit the US territory in 2017.
The storm has already caused deaths since arriving on the island’s south coast on Sunday afternoon. According to the New York Times, an older man died while trying to operate a generator when the rain started. 1.3 million people were left without power on Monday afternoon. And although electricity has been restored for around 100,000 costumers as tracked by the United States Power Outage Map, , it could take several days for power to be properly restored to the main points of the island, the power company, LUMA confirmed.
According to Pierluisi, parts of the island have received more than 76 centimetres of rain, which, in his words, could provoke “life-threatening and catastrophic flooding”. Not only that: mudslides, according to the National Weather Service, should also be a major point of concern. Authorities claim to have already evacuated hundreds of people from their homes around the island, but the number should increase if the storm persists.
In America, President Joe Biden declared an emergency in Puerto Rico on Sunday and has given permission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to organise disaster relief efforts. He is also believed to be monitoring the situation closely, as some experts have already raised concerns that Fiona could hit Florida. After battering the Dominican Republic on Monday morning, the storm is expected to gain strength after moving away from the two islands. According to the National Hurricane Centre, it is now projected to move near Turks and Caicos on Tuesday, before veering into the Atlantic and approaching Bermuda as a major hurricane towards the weekend.
Puerto Rico’s power grid has shown vulnerabilities since Hurricane Maria, five years ago. Maria was a Category 4 storm that made landfall on the island, killing nearly 3,000 people, decimating entire neighbourhoods, leaving many citizens without power for months and causing an estimated $90 billion in damage. Therefore, it is not hard to see why the island has not fully recovered from its impacts yet, but now faces another catastrophic event.
Puerto Rico’s financially unstable government has been struggling considerably with funds to finally tackle its power grid, having contracted LUMA in 2020 to take over the power transmission and make urgent repairs. The transition to a private operator has been rather chaotic, however, since it has resulted in frequent power outrages that have led Pierluisi, along with hundred Puerto Ricans, to heavily criticise the company. LUMA, in its own defence, has blamed the island’s old infrastructure, extreme weathers and precarious maintenance for its inefficiency.
It is believed that, on Monday, at least 2,300 people and 250 pets remained in shelters across the island. Fiona also triggered a blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s south-west corner on Sunday. Water service was also cut to more than 837,000 customers (two-thirds of the total population), because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power. And as the issues mount, website AccuWeather already estimates the economic impact on the island to be around the $10 billion mark.