Hurricane Fiona is on track to threaten Bermuda and the Canadian Far East as it stranded hundreds of people in Puerto Rico, where it destroyed roads and bridges and caused historic flooding.
Government officials in the U.S. territory have worked with faith groups, nonprofits and others who have braved landslides, thick mud and crushed asphalt to provide food, water and medicine to those in need.
But they are under pressure to clear the way for vehicles to enter isolated areas soon.
Nino Correa, commissioner of Puerto Rico’s Emergency Management Agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas devastated by Fiona as a Category 1 hurricane. It was down to Category 4 power Thursday as it headed toward Bermuda.
Manuel Veguilla said he hasn’t been able to leave his neighborhood in the northern mountain town of Cagua since Fiona arrived on Sunday.
“We’re all isolated,” Veguilla said, adding that she’s worried about her elderly neighbors, including her older brother, who doesn’t have the strength for the long walk it takes to reach the nearest community.
Veguilla heard that municipal officials might open the trail on Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because large rocks covered a nearby bridge and 3 meters (10 feet) of space below it.
Neighbors have shared food and water brought by nonprofit organizations, and the elderly woman’s son was able to bring the basic necessities back on foot on Wednesday, he said.
Veguilla said that after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago, killing nearly 3,000 people, he and others used picks and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different, triggering massive landslides.
“I can’t throw these rocks over my shoulder,” he said.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguilla had no water or electric service, but she says there is a natural water source nearby.
Fiona caused an island-wide blackout when it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which is still recovering from strong earthquakes in recent years.
About 62 percent of 1.47 million customers were without power Thursday, four days after the hurricane, due to an extreme heat warning issued by the National Weather Service. Approximately 36 percent of customers, or nearly half a million, did not have water service.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) sent hundreds of additional workers to help local officials as the federal government approved a disaster declaration and declared a public health emergency on the island.
Neither local nor federal government officials had provided any general estimates of the hurricane, which dropped up to 760 mm (30 inches) of rain in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets stayed in shelters.