President Joe Biden said Thursday that the full force of the federal government is ready to help Puerto Rico recover from the devastation of Hurricane Fiona, while Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces brace for a major blast from the category storm. Four.
Speaking at a briefing with Federal Emergency Management Agency officials in New York, Biden said, “We’re all in this together.”
Mr. Biden noted that hundreds of FEMA and other federal officials are already in Puerto Rico, where Fiona caused an island-wide blackout.
More than 60% of electricity customers remained without power Thursday, with a third of customers without water, and local officials admitted they couldn’t say when service would be fully restored.
Mr. Biden said that his message to the people of Puerto Rico is: “We are with you. We’re not going to leave.”
Many Puerto Ricans are still reeling from Hurricane Maria five years ago, which left some residents without power for 11 months.
The hurricane was still at Category 4 strength Thursday night as it passed near Bermuda, where authorities opened shelters and announced schools and offices would be closed on Friday.
Fiona was expected to remain a large and dangerously powerful storm when it reached Canada’s Atlantic provinces, likely late Friday, as a post-tropical cyclone.
“It’s going to be a storm everyone will remember when it’s all said and done,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist with the Canadian Hurricane Center.
Hundreds of people in Puerto Rico remained isolated by road four days after the hurricane hit US territory, and frustration was mounting for people like Nancy Galarza, who tried to ask for help from work crews she saw in the distance.
“Everyone goes there,” he said, pointing to crews at the base of the mountain who were helping others who were also cut off by the storm. “Nobody comes here to see us. I am worried about all the older people in this community.”
At least five landslides litter the narrow road to their community in the steep mountains around the northern city of Caguas. The only way to reach the settlement is to climb the thick mounds of mud, rock, and debris left behind by Fiona, whose floodwaters shook the foundations of nearby houses with the force of an earthquake.
“The rocks sounded like thunder,” recalled Vanessa Flores, a custodian at the school. “I have never heard that in my life. It was horrible.”
At least one elderly woman who relies on oxygen was evacuated Thursday by city officials working in torrential rain to clear roads to the community of San Salvador.
Ramiro Figueroa said his bedridden father refused to leave the house despite pleas from rescue teams. His path was blocked by mud, rocks, trees and his sister’s truck, which was swept down the hill during the storm.
National Guard troops and others brought water, cereal, canned peaches and two bottles of apple juice.
“That has helped me tremendously,” Figueroa said as she surveyed the devastated landscape, where a river had changed course and ripped the community apart.
At least eight of the 11 communities in Caguas are completely isolated, said Luis González, municipal recovery and reconstruction inspector. It is one of at least six municipalities where crews have yet to reach some areas. People there often rely on neighbors for help, as happened after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that killed nearly 3,000 people in 2017.
Miguel Veguilla said that after María he used picks and shovels to clean up the debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing massive landslides.
“I can’t throw those stones over my shoulder,” he said.
Like hundreds of thousands in Puerto Rico, Mr. Veguilla has no water service or electricity, but said there is a natural water source nearby.
Danciel Rivera arrived in rural Caguas with a group from the church and tried to bring a little joy by dressing up as a clown.
“That’s very important right now,” he said, noting that people had never fully recovered from Hurricane Maria. “A lot of PTSD has reared its head these days.”
His oversized clown shoes squelched in the mud as he waved to people, whose faces lit up as they smiled at him.
Puerto Rico’s government said about 62% of the 1.47 million customers lost power on Thursday. A third of clients, or more than 400,000, still did not have water service.
“Too many homes and businesses are still without power,” Biden said in New York, adding that additional utility crews would travel to the island to help restore power in the coming days.
The executive director of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Josué Colón, said at a press conference that the areas least affected by Fiona should have electricity by Friday morning. But officials declined to say when power would be restored to the hardest-hit places, saying they were first working to get power to hospitals and other key infrastructure.
Neither local nor federal government officials provided an overall estimate of damage from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.
The American center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph on Thursday night. It was centered about 195 miles west of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 21 mph.
Hurricane-force winds extended outward up to 115 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 275 miles.
Bermuda Premier David Burt sent out a tweet urging residents to “take care of yourselves and your family. Let’s all remember to check and take care of your elderly, family and neighbors. stay safe.”
So far, Fiona has been blamed for at least five deaths: two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.
Fiona also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday, but authorities reported relatively light damage and no deaths.
This story was reported by the Associated Press.