Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was once again knocked offline on Sunday, after Hurricane Fiona battered island with high winds and extreme rainfall that has led to catastrophic flash flooding across much of the country. Most of the grid remained offline Monday, leaving more than 800,000 customers without water service — and more torrential rain and flooding is still expected.
The storm struck almost five years to the day after Category 4 Hurricane Maria devastated the island, destroyed its power grid, did an estimated $90 billion of damage, and caused the deaths of nearly 3,000 people. The U.S. territory still hasn’t fully recovered. Though Fiona was only a Category 1 storm when it made landfall on Sunday afternoon, as has been seen with numerous other storms over the past decade, the biggest danger has been the slow-moving storm’s rainfall. Below is what we know about the developing crisis.
After making landfall in the eastern part of the Dominican Republic on Monday morning, the center of Hurricane Fiona had moved back over the open ocean by the afternoon, and is not forecast to come near the East Coast.
In Puerto Rico, where the storm made landfall on Sunday afternoon, more than two feet of rain has already fallen in some areas, with one town, Lago Cerrillos, recording 27 inches in less than a day. More rain was forecast to fall on Monday as the storm’s outer bands continue to drench the island. Most of Puerto Rico remains under extreme risk of flash flooding, as the storm “will continue to produce life-threatening and catastrophic flooding along with mudslides and landslides,” according to the National Hurricane Center.
Emergency response continues in Puerto Rico
Over 1,000 water rescues have already been performed by the Puerto Rico’s National Guard, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said during a news conference on Monday, and more are still underway. He said that all hospitals on the island were operating on backup power, and that he expected most of the island’s electricity to be restored in a matter of days. On Sunday, San Juan’s main cancer hospital had to relocate its patients to another hospital after its backup power failed.
The full extent of the damage across the island is not yet clear, Pierluisi said. More than 2,100 people have taken refuge in shelters. So far, only one death has been attributed to the storm, after a man was killed by an exploding generator.
President Biden has already declared a federal emergency for Puerto Rico, and Pierluisi said he has been working closely with FEMA officials and the administration. New York governor Kathy Houchul also announced Monday that she would send as many as 100 Spanish-speaking state police officers to help with the recovery.
1 million without water service in Dominican Republic
Fiona did significant damage in the Dominican Republic on Monday as well. More than 1 million customers have lost water service after nearly 60 aqueducts were disabled in the storm.
Puerto Rico is powerless, yet again
Puerto Rico’s entire power grid went offline on Sunday afternoon, leaving more than 3 million people in darkness. As of midday Monday, though power had been restored in some areas, the vast majority of the island remained without electricity, according to Poweroutage.us.
The private company that operates Puerto Rico’s grid, Luma, has warned that it may take several days to restore power across the island.
Crippling widespread power outages continue to plague Puerto Rico, and not just as a result of storms. In September of 2017, Hurricane Maria completely destroyed the island’s troubled and aging power grid, leaving nearly half its residents without power for months, and some communities in remote areas of the territory without power for almost a year. The blackout, which was the world’s second longest power outage in history, was a central factor in the storm’s extraordinarily high death toll. In July of 2020, Tropical Storm Isaias knocked out electricity for 400,000, and left 150,000 without water service. 200,000 lost power as a result of Tropical Storm Laura later that year. In June of last year, hundreds of thousands lost power after a substation fire. This April, a fire at one of the island’s main power plants cut power for 1 million customers. Residents continued to face worsening power outages over the summer, prompting street protests against Luma.
Widespread flooding across Puerto Rico
The extreme rainfall quickly led to flooding throughout the island after Fiona made landfall on Sunday.
Some of the most dramatic footage of the flooding showed a bridge in the town of Utuado, located in the mountainous central region of the island, being overwhelmed and carried away by a torrent of water on Sunday:
This post has been updated.