Updated Sep 19, 2022 - Energy & Environment

Puerto Rico reeling from Hurricane Fiona as storm pulls away

Satellite image of Hurricane Fiona after making landfall in southwest Puerto Rico.
Satellite image of Hurricane Fiona after making landfall in southwest Puerto Rico. Photo: CIRA/RAMMB

Hurricane Fiona continued to dump large amounts of rain on Puerto Rico as it moved away from land early Monday morning, contributing to widespread flooding across the island and leaving millions without power.

The latest: Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said in a news conference Monday that the island’s National Guard had so far rescued over 1,000 people stranded in 25 cities or towns and more than 2,000 people had been housed in shelters.

  • A spokesperson for the government's emergency management department said during the news conference at least 750,000 customers were without running water as of Monday morning because of the power outages, according to the Washington Post.
  • Officials said at least one person died from the outage. A 70-year-old man burned to death from trying to refill a running generator, AP reports.

Inland flooding, not high winds, tends to cause the most fatalities.

  • Flood gauges across the island show rapidly rising waterways. The Rio Guanajibo River near Hormigueros, in western Puerto Rico, for example, saw a record crest of 29.2 feet. At the start of the storm, the river was just 11.54 feet.
  • This beat the flood seen on the river during Hurricane Maria in 2017.

The hurricane strengthened before making landfall in the Dominican Republic to the south-southwest of Punta Cana on Monday morning, according to the National Hurricane Center.

  • The hurricane's center was moving off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as of 11am and was moving northwestward at around 8 miles per hour.
  • It made landfall as a Category 1 hurricane with maximum sustained winds near 90 mph, which triggered mudslides that damaged highways and forced resorts to close, the New York Times reports.
  • Authorities also shut down ports and beaches and instructed people to stay indoors, per AP.

Threat level: The National Weather Service said rainbands from Hurricane Fiona are expected to continue moving across Puerto Rico on Monday, bringing even more rain to the island.

  • Parts of the southern portion of the island could see an additional 4 to 6 inches of rainfall on top of at least 20 inches that's already fallen, while an additional 1 to 4 inches could fall on parts of the north, where 4 to 12 inches have already dropped.
  • Rainfall could reach 30 inches, per the NHC.
  • This amount of rain is enough to produce what the National Weather Service described as "life-threatening and catastrophic flooding along with mudslides and landslides."
  • NWS in San Juan urged people to "MOVE TO HIGHER GROUND IMMEDIATELY!" at around 8 am, "especially across the southern and western half of Puerto Rico."

By the numbers: More than 1.4 million customers in Puerto Rico were without power as of Monday morning, according to poweroutage.us, which tracks outages in the U.S.

What they're saying: LUMA Energy, the company responsible for power distribution and power transmission in Puerto Rico, said on its website the island's electric system "has experienced several transmission line outages which have contributed to an island-wide power outage."

  • "The current weather conditions are extremely dangerous and are hampering our ability to fully assess the situation," it continued. "Given the size and scope of the outage, as well as ongoing impacts of Hurricane Fiona, full power restoration could take several days."
Data: National Hurricane Center; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

What's next: The hurricane is forecast to strengthen as it pulls away from Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, with hurricane conditions expected in the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.

  • The southeastern portion of the Bahamas could experience tropical storm conditions late Monday or early Tuesday, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Go deeper: Hurricane Fiona leaves Puerto Rico in the dark

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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