In the wake of Hurricane Fiona as it roars through Puerto Rico, communities are under water, bridges and roads have been destroyed, and many residents’ homes are uninhabitable. Early figures show a tough road ahead as residents try to recover.
According to Rachel Cleetus, policy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, it will be a while before experts fully understand the extent of Fiona’s damage.
“What we can be pretty sure about, looking at some of these early images that are coming in, is that it’s very, very important,” he said.
Here are the latest numbers:
1. Over 30 inches of rain fell in some areas of Puerto Rico
A massive amount of rainfall flooded the island, according to the National Hurricane Center.
Southern Puerto Rico was hit with 12 to 20 inches. Some areas received a maximum of nearly 3 feet of rain during the storm. Residents of northern Puerto Rico saw between 4 and 12 inches of rain, with some areas receiving up to 20 inches, the data shows. In the days following the storm, communities still received several inches of rain and have been dealing with significant flooding.
US Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency on the island on Wednesday due to Fiona’s flooding.
This follows President Biden’s disaster declaration.
2. The National Guard must save dozens
Since The Puerto Rico National Guard rescued 21 elderly and bedridden people from a nursing home in the affected municipality of Cayey on Monday. According to the National Guard, the landslides threatened the building’s structure and the safety of the residents. An infantry group from the municipality of Mayagüez rescued 59 people from the flooded community. This includes two bedridden seniors and 13 pets.
They are just in the areas where the rescuers can get to.
“We haven’t had any damage assessments yet where people have been able to go to some of the more remote areas that are completely cut off to really understand the extent of the damage,” Cleetus told NPR.
Puerto Rico emergency officials told The Associated Press that several municipalities were still cut off from aid days after the storm and it was unclear how badly their residents were affected.
3. More than 900,000 are still without power
Photo: AFP/AFP via Getty Images
Much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, particularly the island’s power grid, still faces challenges exacerbated by 2017’s Hurricane Maria. It took weeks or even months to restore power to some areas. For example, one Puerto Rican journalist told NPR that he lived without electricity for a year. And it remained unreliable years later.
PowerOutage.us, which tracks service outages, says about 928,000 households are without power as of Friday morning — roughly five days after Fiona hit.
4. Hundreds of thousands are still without water
Photo: AFP/AFP via Getty Images
As of Friday, government data showed more than 358,000 customers (about 27%) were still without water service.
At one point this week, Puerto Rico’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority reported that more than 760,000 customers were without water service or experiencing major outages.
5. Puerto Rico’s economy could take a multi-billion dollar hit
Cleetus believes that if the experts can properly calculate Fiona’s total destruction, they will find a multi-billion dollar economic disaster.
Given Fiona’s strength and longevity, the economic impact on Puerto Rico will not be on the same scale as Hurricane Maria, which was a Category 4 when it made landfall there. Maria left about 3,000 people dead and caused more than $100 billion in damage. By comparison, Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane when it hit the island. (It has since strengthened to a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda.)
The problem is that Fiona arrived in Puerto Rico before she had fully recovered from the damage Maria had done, Cleetus said. The economic damage from this storm will be compounded by the ongoing problems on the island that Maria exacerbated, he added.
“Sometimes we tend to focus on storms when they’re in the headlines and you look at it as a unique event,” he said. “But it’s the compounding impact of these events that is very damaging to communities.”