Thu, 06 Oct 2022

Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category One storm on Sunday afternoon, the US National Hurricane Center said.

The hurricane struck the southwestern coast of the US island territory "near Punta Tocon at 3:20 pm" (1920 GMT), the NHC said on Twitter, as the storm packed maximum sustained winds of 85 miles (140 kilometers) per hour. A Category One hurricane is the lowest level on the Saffir-Simpson scale.

The island lost power earlier Sunday as Fiona neared Puerto Rico, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said in a statement posted on Twitter.

"Due to the effect of the hurricane, the electrical system is currently out of service," he said, adding that flooding has been reported in various parts of the island.

Puerto Rico's ports have been closed and flights out of the main airport canceled. Torrential rains and mudslides were also forecast for the Dominican Republic as the storm progresses northwestward, with the Turks and Caicos Islands likely facing tropical storm conditions on Tuesday, the NHC said.

"These rains will produce life-threatening and catastrophic flash flooding and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain," the agency said.

The storm has already caused a fatality, with a man left dead when his house was swept away by flooding in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe, when Fiona was still classified as a tropical storm.

US President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on Sunday as Fiona approached the island, authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance.

'Go to shelters'

Pierluisi told a news conference the previous day that "we are asking residents not to leave their homes and to go to shelters if they are in areas prone to landslides and flooding."

The island - which has suffered from major infrastructure problems for years - was hit by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, devastating its electrical grid.

The grid was privatised in June 2021 in an effort to resolve the problem of blackouts, but the issue has persisted, and the entire island lost power earlier this year.

Power outages were hitting Puerto Rico even before the full force of Hurricane Fiona struck, with more than 388,000 people without electricity, according to tracking website poweroutage.us.

The former Spanish colony became a US territory in the late 19th century before gaining the status of associated free state in 1950.

After years of financial woes and recession, in 2017 the island declared the largest bankruptcy ever by a local US administration. Later that year, hurricanes Irma and Maria added to the island's woes, and sparked a feud between San Juan and Washington.

Then-president Donald Trump's administration was widely accused of failing to provide sufficient federal aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria struck.

Footage of him tossing paper towels to survivors during a visit to the island drew criticism, and Trump later claimed the storm's death toll had been inflated by Democrats to "make me look as bad as possible."

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and Reuters)

Originally published on France24

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