Hundreds of people are stranded in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona destroyed roads and bridges, with officials still struggling to reach people four days after the storm hit the US mainland, causing historic flooding.
For now, government officials, along with religious groups, nonprofits and others, are working through landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt to deliver food, water and medicine to people in need. They can, but they are under pressure to clear the way so vehicles can enter in isolation. areas soon.
Nino Correa, commissioner of Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Agency, estimated that at least six of the island’s municipalities had areas cut off by Fiona, which hit as a Category 1 hurricane on Wednesday. Heading towards Bermuda was up to Category 4 power.
One of those areas is Manuel Viguela, who hasn’t been able to leave his neighborhood in the northern mountain town of Caguas since Fiona entered on Sunday.
“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he worries about elderly neighbors, including his older brother, who don’t have the strength to walk long distances to reach the nearest community.
Viguela heard that municipal officials could open a path Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because he said large rocks covered a nearby bridge and 10 feet below it.
Neighbors have shared food and water left by nonprofit groups, and an elderly woman’s son was able to bring back basic supplies on foot Wednesday, he said.
Viguela said that after Hurricane Maria, which hit five years ago and killed nearly 3,000 people, he and others used picks and shovels to remove debris. But Fiona was different, causing massive landslides.
“I can’t throw these stones over my shoulder,” he said.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, the Viguelas had no water or electricity service, but said they had a natural source of water.
Fiona triggered island-wide blackouts as it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which was already trying to recover from a series of powerful earthquakes in recent years. Four days after the storm, 62 percent of the 1.47 million customers were without power amid a severe heat warning issued by the National Weather Service. About 36 percent of consumers, or nearly half a million, had no water service.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency sent hundreds of additional personnel to assist local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and declared a public health emergency on the island.
Neither local nor federal government officials provided damage estimates as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the storm, which dumped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets stayed in shelters.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have suffered so much over the past few years,” said Brad Kasserman, vice president of operations and logistics for the Red Cross.
After Puerto Rico, Fiona hit the Dominican Republic and then moved past the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened into a Category 4 storm. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, although the storm’s eye passed close to the British territory’s tiny capital island of Grand Turk on Tuesday.
“God has been good to us and kept us safe during a time when we could have had a worse outcome,” said Deputy Gov. Anya Williams.
The US National Hurricane Center said Fiona was forecast to pass near Bermuda on Friday morning and then hit eastern Canada on Saturday morning.
Fiona had sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) on Thursday morning, the center said. It was centered about 485 miles (780 km) southwest of Bermuda, moving north-northeast at 13 mph (20 km/h).
The storm was forecast to pass west of Bermuda late Thursday. A hurricane warning was in effect for the British territory.
Associated Press reporter Maricarman Rivera Sanchez contributed.