Puerto Rico struggles to reach areas cut off by Fiona

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico – Hurricane Fiona stranded dozens of families across Puerto Rico after smashing roads and bridges, while authorities were still struggling to reach residents four days after the storm hit entered the United States, causing historic flooding.

Now, government officials are working with religious groups, nonprofits and others defying landslides, thick mud, and damaged asphalt to deliver food, water, and medicine. for those in need, but they are under pressure to clear the way so vehicles can enter isolated. early area.

Nino Correa, Puerto Rico’s emergency management commissioner, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas cut off by Fiona, a Category 1 hurricane and up to Category 4 by Wednesday as it heads to Bermuda.

Living in one of those areas is Manuel Veguilla, who has been unable to leave his neighborhood in the northern mountain town of Caguas since Fiona arrived on Sunday.

“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he was worried about elderly neighbors, including his older brother, who did not have the strength to walk long distances. be with the nearest community.

Veguilla heard city officials could open a road on Thursday, but he doubts that will happen because he says large boulders have covered a nearby bridge and 10-foot wide space. below it.

Neighbors shared food and water delivered by nonprofit groups, and an elderly woman’s son was able to bring in basic supplies on Wednesday, he said.

Veguilla said that after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane that hit five years ago and killed nearly 3,000 people, he and others used picks and shovels to clear debris. But Fiona is different, unleashing huge landslides.

“I couldn’t throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguilla has no water or electric service, but says they have a natural source of water nearby.

Fiona caused an island-wide blackout when it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which is still trying to recover from a series of powerful earthquakes in recent years. About 70% of 1.47 million customers lost power three days after the storm amid high temperature warnings issued by the National Weather Service. About 40% of customers, or more than half a million, do not have water service.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent hundreds of additional staff members to help local officials as the federal government approves major disaster declarations and declares a public health emergency across the country. Island.

Neither local nor federal government officials released any damage estimates as Puerto Rico is struggling to recover from the storm, which brought up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 1,000 people are still in shelters.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have suffered so much over the past few years,” said Brad Kieserman, Red Cross vice president of operations and logistics.

After Puerto Rico, Fiona crashed into the Dominican Republic and then skimmed over the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened into a Category 4 hurricane. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, though to the eye. The storm passed near Grand Turk, a small British island, on Tuesday.

“God has been good to us and has kept us safe during this period when we could have had a much worse outcome,” said Deputy Governor Anya Williams.

Fiona is forecast to pass near Bermuda early Friday, and then make landfall in extreme eastern Canada early Saturday, the US National Hurricane Center said.

The center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) late Wednesday. It is centered about 550 miles (885 km) southwest of Bermuda, heading north at 10 mph (17 km/h). It is forecast to pass through Bermuda early Friday.

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