SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico/SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic, Sept 20 (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona bore down on Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a powerful Category 3 storm, threatening the Caribbean archipelago with heavy rains and life-threatening flooding after cutting a path of destruction through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
On Tuesday morning, the storm slammed Grand Turk, the chain’s biggest island, and was moving closer to the main cluster of islands by afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Center said in its 11 a.m. Eastern update.
“The Turks and Caicos right now are getting hammered with hurricane conditions,” Acting NHC Director Michael Brennan said.
To the south, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were stunned by the storm’s intensity and were struggling to cope with the aftermath. At least three people died, two in Puerto Rico and one in Guadeloupe earlier in the week, officials said.
In Puerto Rico, Hurricane Fiona was a painful reminder of the island’s vulnerability. Tuesday marked the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which killed about 3,000 people in the U.S. territory and destroyed its power grid.
Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico on Sunday afternoon, dumping up to 30 inches (76.2 cm) of rain in some areas.
Two days later, nearly 80% of Puerto Rico remained without power Tuesday, according to Poweroutage.us. Officials said it would take days to reconnect the whole island of 3.3 million people.
“It knocked down many trees, there are downed poles and here in the house we got water where it had never happened before,” said Asbertly Vargas, a 40-year-old mechanic whose home in Yauco, a town along the island’s southern coast, was flooded.
“A fence in the yard fell down and the land in the back slid a bit towards our house. But I’m fine, I’m alive,” Vargas said.
On the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory with 40 low-lying coral islands and a population of about 40,000 about 700 miles southeast of Florida, the government’s National Emergency Operations Center (NEOC) told residents of three eastern islands to shelter in place and ordered businesses to close.
Turks and Caicos Premier Washington Misick, who attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, issued a statement from London warning residents to prepare for the storm.
Residents were stocking up on food and water while shelters were being prepared. Foreign governments issued travel alerts for the islands, a popular tourist destination.
Similar preparations were underway in the eastern Bahamas, which the storm could skirt on Wednesday when it was forecast to turn in a northwesterly track toward Bermuda.
It could mushroom into a Category 4 storm in the coming days, reaching Canada’s Atlantic coast by late Friday, the NHC said.
In the Dominican Republic, severe flooding limited road access to villages, forced 12,500 people from their homes and knocked out power to hundreds of thousands.
Fiona was the first hurricane to score a direct hit on the Dominican Republic since Jeanne left severe damage in the east of the country in 2004.
Dominican President Luis Abinader canceled plans to attend the United Nations General Assembly in order to address the emergency.
As of Monday night, the country’s emergency center counted more than 1.1 million people without drinking water as a result of failures in aqueducts and more than 700,000 without electricity, especially in the east of the country.
“It is my main duty to meet the needs and urgencies that are needed at this time in our country,” Abinader said in a video published Monday night on social networks.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Puerto Rico on Tuesday.
Puerto Rico’s power grid is fragile despite emergency repairs after Maria, according to the Center for a New Economy, a Puerto Rican think tank.
LUMA Energy, which was contracted to operate Puerto Rico’s power grid in 2020, said on Monday that its crews have been assessing damage, performing critical repairs, and working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and private generators to increase generation and reenergize the electric grid.
PREPA, which operated the island’s power grid when Hurricane Maria hit, still owns much of Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure.
Maria, a Category 5 storm in 2017, killed 3,000 people, left 1.5 million customers without electricity, and knocked out 80% of power lines. Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live under makeshift tarpaulin roofs.