Puerto Rico struggles to reach areas cut off by Fiona, hurricane threatens Bermuda

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CAGUAS, Puerto Rico — Hurricane Fiona left dozens of families in Puerto Rico stranded after destroying roads and bridges, and authorities are still struggling to reach people four days after the storm hit US territory, causing historic flooding.

For now, government officials are partnering with religious groups, nonprofits and others who are braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt on foot to provide food, water and medicine to those in need, but they are under pressure to clear a path. so that vehicles can enter areas in isolation soon.

Nino Correa, commissioner for Puerto Rico’s disaster management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas cut off by Fiona, which struck as a Category 1 hurricane and had Category 4 power Wednesday as it headed for Bermuda.

One of those areas is home to Manuel Veguilla, who has been unable to leave his neighborhood in the northern mountain town of Caguas since Fiona invaded on Sunday.

“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he is concerned about elderly neighbors, including his older brother, who do not have the strength for the long walk needed to reach the nearest community.

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Veguilla heard that city officials might open a path Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because he said large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the space 3 feet below it.

Neighbors have shared food and water among nonprofits, and an elderly woman’s son was able to return basic necessities on foot Wednesday, he said.

Veguilla said that in the wake of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that struck five years ago and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, he and others used picks and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different and caused massive landslides.

“I can’t throw those stones over my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans after Fiona, Veguilla had no water or electricity supply, but said there is a natural water source nearby.

Fiona caused an island-wide power outage when it hit the southwestern region of Puerto Rico, which was still trying to recover from a series of strong earthquakes in recent years. About 70% of the 1.47 million customers were without power three days after the storm due to an extreme heat warning from the National Weather Service. About 40% of customers, or more than half a million, had no water supply.

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The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent hundreds of additional personnel to assist local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency on the island.

Neither local nor federal government officials had provided damage estimates as Puerto Rico struggles to recover from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas. More than 1,000 people stayed in shelters.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much suffering in recent years,” said Brad Kieserman, vice president of operations and logistics at the Red Cross.

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After Puerto Rico, Fiona slammed into the Dominican Republic, then swept past the Turks and Caicos Islands as it swells into a Category 4 storm. Officials there reported relatively minor damage and no deaths, although the eye of the storm was close to Grand Turk on Tuesday. the capital island of the small British territory, passed.

“God has been good to us and kept us safe during this time when we could have had a much worse outcome,” said Vice Governor Anya Williams.

According to the US National Hurricane Center, Fiona would pass near Bermuda early Friday and then reach the easternmost part of Canada.

The center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 215 km/h at the end of Wednesday. It was centered about 885 kilometers southwest of Bermuda and headed north at 10 mph (17 kph). It was predicted to pass close to Bermuda early Friday.

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