CAGUAS, Puerto Rico – Hurricane Fiona was on track to threaten Bermuda and the Canadian Far East on Thursday as hundreds of people were stranded in Puerto Rico, where it destroyed roads and bridges and caused historic flooding.
Government officials have been working with religious groups, nonprofits and others who have braved landslides, thick mud and trampled asphalt to provide food, water and medicine to those in need, but are under pressure to clear roads for vehicles to soon enter isolated areas. .
Nino Correa, the commissioner of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas ravaged by Fiona, which was a Category 1 hurricane and had up to Category 4 power as it headed toward Bermuda on Thursday.
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,” she said, adding that she worries 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 municipal officials might open the trail Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the 10-foot space below.
He said neighbors have shared food and water brought by non-profit organizations, and the elderly woman’s son was able to bring basic necessities back on foot on Wednesday.
Veguilla said that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago and killed 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 said there was a natural water source nearby.
Fiona caused an island-wide blackout when it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which was already trying to recover from strong earthquakes in recent years. About 62% of 1.47 million customers were without power Thursday, four days after the storm, due to an extreme heat warning issued by the National Weather Service. A third of the customers, or more than 400,000, did not yet have water service.
Josué Colón, executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, said at a news conference that areas less affected by Fiona should have power by Friday morning.
But officials declined to say when power would be restored in areas hardest hit by the storm.
“We work step by step. Our next step now is to focus on critical load” — serving hospitals and other critical infrastructure — said Daniel Hernández, director of renewable energy at LUMA Energy, which distributes power in Puerto Rico.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has 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 officials had provided estimates of overall damage from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets stayed in shelters.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much over the past few years,” said Red Cross Vice President of Operations and Logistics Brad Kieserman.
After Puerto Rico, Fiona slammed into the Dominican Republic and then roared as it strengthened over the Turks and Caicos Islands. Officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths, although the eye of the storm passed near Grand Turk, the capital of the tiny British territory, on Tuesday.
“God has been good to us and kept us safe during a period when we could have fared much worse,” said Lt. Gov. Anya Williams.
The U.S. National Hurricane Center said Fiona will pass near Bermuda late Thursday night or early Friday morning and then hit eastern Canada.
The Canadian Hurricane Center has issued a hurricane watch for Nova Scotia from Hubbards to Brulen, Prince Edward Island, Isle-de-la-Madeleine and the Newfoundland coast from Parson’s Pond to Port-Aux-Basque.
The US Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) Thursday morning. It was centered about 410 miles (660 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, moving north-northeast at 15 mph (24 km/h).
Bermuda was under a hurricane warning, with Prime Minister David Burt sending out a tweet urging residents to take care of themselves and their families. Let’s all remember to check and watch our seniors, family and neighbors. Be safe.”
Associated Press reporter Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez contributed.