Hurricane Fiona blasted the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most people remained without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to lift survivors to safety.
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 125 mph (205 kph) and was moving north-northwest at 8 mph (13 kph), according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm was likely to strengthen into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday.
Rain was still lashing parts of Puerto Rico Tuesday, where the sounds of people scraping, sweeping, and spraying their homes and streets echoed across rural areas as historic floodwaters began to recede.
“Puerto Rico is not prepared for this, or for anything,” said Mariangy Hernández, a 48-year-old housewife, who said she doubted the government would help her community of some 300 in the long term, despite ongoing efforts to clear the streets and restore power. “This is only for a couple of days and later they forget about us.”
The cleanup efforts occurred on the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, which hit as a Category 4 storm in 2017 and knocked out power for a year in parts of Cayey.
670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 people at a retirement home in Cayey that was in danger of collapsing.
The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered by blue tarps.
Authorities said Tuesday that at least 1,220 people and more than 70 pets remained in shelters across the island.
Fiona triggered a blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest corner on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.
Water service was cut to more than 760,000 customers — two thirds of the total on the island — because of turbid water at filtration plants or lack of power, officials said.
More than half a million people in Puerto Rico remained without water service on Wednesday — three days after Hurricane Fiona slammed into the U.S. territory — sending many to line up for hours to fill jugs from water trucks and others to scoop water from mountain runoff.
Sweat rolled down the faces of people in a long line of cars in the northern mountain town of Caguas, where the government had set up a water truck, one of at least 18 so-called “oases” set up across the island.
The setback was maddening for many across an island once again left without basic services following a storm.
“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but this was worse,” said Gerardo Rodríguez in the southern coastal town of Salinas, referring to the 2017 hurricane that caused nearly 3,000 deaths and demolished the U.S. territory’s power grid.
Standing behind him was 67-year-old retiree William Rodríguez, surrounded by three large buckets and four 1-gallon containers. He had been living in Massachusetts and decided to return to Puerto Rico about six months ago.
“But I think I’m leaving again,” he said as he shook his head.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generation facilities throughout the island. We want to make it very clear that efforts to restore and reenergize continue and are being affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, deteriorating equipment, and downed lines,” said Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution.
The hum of generators could be heard across the territory as people became increasingly exasperated.