December 8, 2022

Caguas, Puerto Rico (AFP) – More than half a million people in Puerto Rico remained without water service three days after Hurricane Fiona hit US soil, and many spent hours queuing Wednesday to fill jugs of water trucks while others took water from mountain runoff.

Sweat rolled down the faces of people in a long line of cars in the northern mountain town of Caguas, as the government dispatched a water truck, one of at least 18 oases created across the island.

The situation was alarming for many people across the island who once again left without essential services in the aftermath of the storm.

“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but this was worse,” said Gerardo Rodriguez in the southern coastal town of Salinas, referring to the 2017 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 people and devastated the island’s power grid.

Fiona dumped nearly two feet of rain over parts of Puerto Rico before spreading across the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The storm swelled to a Category 4 strength, and was on track to pass near Bermuda early Friday and then hit easternmost Canada early in Satoray, according to the US National Hurricane Center.

The storm wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, which was repaired but not fully rebuilt after Maria caused an 11-month blackout in some places.

A man points to a house that collapsed due to Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 21, 2022.
A man points to a house that collapsed due to Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 21, 2022.

Alejandro Granadillo via The Associated Press

As of Wednesday afternoon, nearly 70% of Puerto Rican customers were without electricity, according to government figures.

In Caguas, the air conditioner in Emayra Veguilla’s car wasn’t working, so the bus driver propped up a small fan in the passenger seat. Earlier, she released the song “Hijos del Canaveral” (“Sons of the Sugarcane Field”), written by Puerto Rican hip-hop star Renee Perez as an ode to the bravery of Puerto Rico and the courage of its people.

“I needed a dose of patriotism,” she said. “I needed the strength to do it again.”

Veguilla had waited in line on Tuesday, only to be told that water had run out and another truck wouldn’t be available until Wednesday.

Some people before Figuela gave up and walked away, with tensions rising the longer people waited.

“It moves!” One of the drivers screamed in fear of the attempted break-in.

Some who saw the line chose instead to drive to a nearby highway where fresh water flows down a mountainside through a bamboo tube that someone had installed.

Greg Reyes, an English teacher, stood in line in muddy flip-flops to collect water for himself, his girlfriend and his cat. He had brought a large bag with all the empty containers he could find in their house, including more than a dozen small water bottles.

Reyes said he and his partner have been buying water since Fiona was hit, but they can’t stand it anymore.

Standing behind him was retired William Rodriguez, surrounded by three large buckets and four gallons. He was living in Massachusetts and decided to move back to Puerto Rico about six months ago.

“But I think I’ll leave again,” he said, shaking his head.

Those in line grumbled about the slow pace of recovery and accused the government of not helping them because people on social media and even the gym said its doors were open to anyone who needed water or a shower.

“It wasn’t easy,” said Juan Santos, a retiree who was holding his 5-year-old grandson’s hand. “We suffer.”

None of those in line had the strength either, and many wondered if it would take as long to recover it as it did with Hurricane Maria.

Electricity company officials initially said it would take a few days to restore electricity, but they appeared to back off on Tuesday evening, saying they faced numerous hurdles.

“Hurricane Fiona has severely affected the electrical infrastructure and generation facilities across the island. We want to make absolutely clear that efforts to restore and revitalize energy are ongoing and affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, fallen trees and degraded equipment,” said Loma, the company that manages power transmission and distribution. and broken lines.

Officials said crews found several substations that are underwater and inaccessible.

But Loma said she expects to restore electricity Wednesday to much of Puerto Rico’s northern coast, which Fiona has largely spared.

The hum of generators could be heard throughout the area as people became increasingly angry.

“I still hope that a large portion of the population will have access to these services by the end of the day,” said Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday and the agency announced that it would send hundreds of additional staff to bolster local response efforts. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden agreed to declare a major disaster, which would allow for more federal assistance.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and deployed two teams to the island.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported relatively minor damage and no deaths, although the eye of a Category 4 storm passed near Grand Turk, the small British capital island, on Tuesday.

“The Turks and Caicos Islands have had an extraordinary experience in the past 24 hours,” Deputy Governor Anya Williams said. “He definitely came with his share of challenges.”

Officials said the school in Grand Turk will open next week.

The Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) late Wednesday. Its epicenter was about 550 miles (885 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, traveling north at 10 mph (17 kph).

Fiona killed a man in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and two others in Puerto Rico that were swept away by swollen rivers. Two died in the Dominican Republic: one by a falling tree and the other by a falling electric pole.

Two additional deaths have been reported in Puerto Rico as a result of power outages: a 70-year-old man burned to death after trying to fill his generator with gasoline, and a 78-year-old man says police inhaled toxic fumes from his home. Electrical generator.

Associated Press reporters Maricarmen Rivera Sanchez and Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.

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