Hurricane Fiona batters Dominican Republic

A member of the Emergency Operations Committee (COE) monitors the trajectory of Hurricane Fiona in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic.

Hurricane Fiona battered the Dominican Republic on Monday with torrential rain and winds as strong as 85 miles per hour, a U.S. government agency said, one day after triggering a total power outage in neighboring Puerto Rico.

The Category 1 hurricane will likely become a Category 3 as it moves north of Hispanola, the Caribbean island that the Dominican Republic shares with Haiti, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said. Turks and Caicos Islands is now under a hurricane warning and the Bahamas could experience tropical storm conditions by Tuesday morning.

Hurricane Fiona made landfall and produced catastrophic flooding in Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon, five years after the U.S. Caribbean territory was ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

Nearly 90% of Puerto Rico remained without power on Monday, according to Poweroutage.us. Officials said it would take days to reconnect the whole island of 3.3 million people.

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Many roads were left impassable due to downed trees and mudslides. Images on social media depicted submerged cars, people wading in waist-deep water and rescue boats floating down swamped streets.

About 750,000 customers had no running water as of Monday morning, CBS reported.

Puerto Rico’s power grid remains fragile despite emergency repairs after Maria caused the largest blackout in U.S. history in September 2017, according to Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank. In that Category 5 storm, which killed more than 3,000 people, 1.5 million customers lost electricity with 80% of power lines knocked out. Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live under makeshift tarpaulin roofs.

After strafing Puerto Rico, Fiona made landfall in the Dominican Republic near Boca Yuma at 3:30 a.m. local time, the NHC said. The center of the storm had reached the northern coast of Hispanola before noon.

It is the first hurricane to score a direct hit on the country since Jeanne left severe damage in the east of the country in September 2018.

Fiona brought down trees, power lines and billboards in the towns of Punta Cana, La Romana and El Seibo in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic early Monday. Relief groups said there were no immediate reports of injuries.

Juan Salas, director of the country’s Office of Civil Defense, said about 800 people were evacuated from high-risk areas, and from around rivers and ravines in rural communities in the east.

While the National Weather Service lifted its hurricane warning for Puerto Rico on Monday, officials warned that rainbands could follow the storm system for hundreds of miles.

With some areas in the southern and western parts of the island at risk of experiencing as much as 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rainfall, authorities warned residents to seek higher ground.

“Unfortunately, the situation in Puerto Rico is not good and not looking to improve until later today when these bands finally pull away,” Acting NHC Director Jamie Rhome said.

Hundreds of responders were assisting in recovery efforts after U.S. President Joe Biden declared an emergency for the island, Biden said in a tweet. The announcement authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate disaster relief and provide emergency protective measures.

“We are here for you, and we will get through this together,” Biden said.

For most of the five years since Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, the debt-laden government and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA, had been mired in bankruptcy, and island finances were managed by a federally appointed oversight board.

While the government’s bankruptcy formally ended in March, the effort to restructure PREPA’s debt is ongoing.

That will be the subject of a hearing this week ordered by the judge overseeing the process after settlement negotiations between PREPA and the oversight board collapsed, Bloomberg reported on Monday.

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