By MARICARMEN RIVERA SANCHEZ and DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona unleashed more rain on Puerto Rico on Monday, a day after the storm knocked out power and water to most of the island, and National Guard troops rescued hundreds of people who got stranded.
The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane María, which killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered by blue tarps.
The storm stripped pavement from roads, tore off roofs, and sent torrents pouring into homes. It also took out a bridge and flooded two airports.
Authorities reported two deaths from the hurricane: a Puerto Rican man who was swept away by a flooded river, and a person in the Dominican Republic who was hit by a falling tree.
On Tuesday the storm blasted the Turks and Caicos Islands as a Category 3 storm.
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and was moving north-northwest at 10 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center, which said the storm is likely to strengthen further into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday.
It was forecast to weaken before running into easternmost Canada over the weekend.
Fiona triggered a blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest corner on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
U.S. President Joe Biden declared a state of emergency as the eye of the storm approached the island’s southwest corner.
One death in Puerto Rico was associated with the blackout: a 70-year-old man who was burned to death after he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, officials said.
By Tuesday morning, authorities said they had restored power to more than 285,000 of the island’s 1.47 million customers.
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi declined to say how long it would take to fully restore electricity, but he said for most customers it would be “a question of days.”
Parts of the island had received more than 25 inches of rain and more was falling on Tuesday.
National Guard Brig. Gen. Narciso Cruz described the resulting flooding as historic.
“There were communities that flooded in the storm that didn’t flood under María,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Cruz said that 670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 people at a retirement home in the northern mountain town of Cayey that was in danger of collapsing.
“The rivers broke their banks and blanketed communities,” he said.
Some were rescued via kayaks and boats while others nestled into the massive shovel of a digger and were lifted to higher ground.
He lamented that some people refused to leave their home, adding that he understood them.
“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw their lives were in danger, they agreed to leave.”
Authorities said Monday at least 2,300 people and some 250 pets remained in shelters across the island.
Meanwhile in the Dominican Republic, authorities closed ports and beaches and told most people to stay home from work. Nearly 800 people were evacuated to safer locations, and more than 700 were in shelters, officials said.
The hurricane left several highways blocked, and a tourist pier in the town of Miches was badly damaged by high waves. At least four international airports were closed, officials said.
The Dominican president, Luis Abinader, said authorities would need several days to assess the storm’s effects.
Back in Puerto Rico, the National Weather Service office said flash flooding was occurring in south-central parts of the island and tweeted, “MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND IMMEDIATELY!”
“It’s important people understand that this is not over,” said Ernesto Morales, a weather service meteorologist in San Juan. He said flooding reached “historic levels,.”
“The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic,” Pierluisi said.
Water service was cut to more than 837,000 customers — two-thirds of the total on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
Before dawn Monday, authorities in a boat navigated the flooded streets of the north coast town of Catano and used a megaphone to alert people that the pumps had collapsed, urging them to evacuate as soon as possible.
Authorities said at least 1,300 people spent Sunday night in shelters across the island.
Brown water poured into streets and homes and closed airports in Ponce and Mayagüez.
The system also ripped asphalt from roads and washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police said was installed by the National Guard after Maria hit as a Category 4 storm.
Fiona also tore the roofs off homes, including that of Nelson Cirino in the northern coastal town of Loíza.
“I was sleeping and saw when the corrugated metal flew off,” he said as he watched rain drench his belongings and wind whip his colorful curtains into the air.
Fiona previously battered the eastern Caribbean, killing one man in the French territory of Guadeloupe when floodwaters washed his home away, officials said.
Coto reported from Havana.