Hurricane Fiona battered the Turks and Caicos islands most of Tuesday with hurricane-force winds, torrential rain and several feet of storm surge, prompting officials to urge residents to stay indoors.
In its devastating path of destruction, the storm has killed at least five people across the Caribbean, cut power and water service for most of Puerto Rico’s 3.1 million residents and left more than 1 million without running water in the Dominican Republic.
Officials in the Turks and Caicos said late Tuesday evening that a shelter-in-place advisory remained in effect amid heavy winds and rain.
“We hope to have an all-clear some time later this evening but as it stands right now, we’re still asking residents to remain indoors,” Anya Williams, deputy governor of the Turks and Caicos Islands, said in a virtual briefing. There have so far been no reported deaths or serious injuries across the islands, Williams added.
Fiona, a Category 3 storm with sustained winds of 125 mph, was continuing to hammer parts of the islands around 8 p.m. ET Tuesday and was strengthening, according to the National Hurricane Center. The storm was centered about 75 miles north of North Caicos Island on Tuesday night, the hurricane center said.
Forecasters have warned of possible “life-threatening flooding” as the storm’s heavy rains continue pouring over parts of the British territory of about 38,000 people, the center said.
The islands of Grand Turk, South Caicos, Salt Cay, North Caicos and Middle Caicos were experiencing island-wide power outages Tuesday night, Williams said, adding restoration efforts will begin as soon as it’s safe.
The storm will slowly move away from the islands Tuesday night and Wednesday and begin approaching Bermuda Thursday, where it’s expected to dump up to 3 inches of rain and create “life-threatening surf and rip current conditions,” the center said. A Tropical Storm Watch has been issued by the Bermuda Weather Service.
Swells from the storm will also spread westward over the next day or two across the southwestern Atlantic, toward the northwestern Bahamas and the US east coast, the hurricane center said.
Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico dealing with deadly aftermath
Still dealing with Fiona’s ruinous path are the Dominican Republic – where the storm’s outer bands could cause flooding after it traversed the Caribbean nation Monday – and Puerto Rico, which Fiona crossed a day earlier, causing a near blackout and leaving damage not seen there since Hurricane Maria made landfall five years ago Tuesday, officials said.
At least two people died in the severe weather in the Dominican Republic, according to Major General Juan Manuel Méndez García, director of the country’s emergency operations center. Aurielys Esther Jimenez, 18, was traveling by motorcycle when she was struck by a power pole that fell due to strong winds, the director said. She was taken to a hospital where she was later pronounced dead.
Officials there on Monday also confirmed the death of a man in Nagua, in northeastern Dominican Republic, who died after powerful winds knocked down a tree that hit him. There was also one death reported in the French territory of Guadeloupe, which Fiona hit late last week, and two in Puerto Rico.
In Puerto Rico, 58-year-old Gilberto Ayala Aponte was swept away by a swollen river behind his home in Comerío. A second man, 70-year-old José Cruz Román, died in a fire accident that occurred when he was trying to put gasoline in his generator while it was turned on, officials said.
Parts of Puerto Rico will have seen rain totals of more than 30 inches, as Fiona pushed rivers to overflow and high water to collect in parts of the territory, flooding homes, streets and fields. Rushing waters wiped away a bridge, carrying its structure downstream, one video shows. Mudslides blocked some roads leading from coastal areas to the interior, a CNN crew saw.
The damage is catastrophic in the territory’s center, south and southeast regions, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said Tuesday.
More than 1.16 million of the island’s roughly 1.47 million utility customers still were without power as of Tuesday night, according to estimates from PowerOutage.us, which notes updated information on restoration efforts is limited.
More than 2,000 people were working to restore power, Mario Hurtado, the chief regulatory officer for utility company LUMA Energy, told CNN’s Jake Tapper Tuesday. LUMA operates Puerto Rico’s power grid.
On the same day, New York’s attorney general called on federal authorities to investigate the energy provider, saying residents continued to experience frequent outages and high electrical rates five years after Hurricanes Irma and Maria and “after billions of federal dollars were spent to modernize and strengthen the island’s electrical grid.”
Fiona forecast to continue strengthening
Fiona intensified into a Category 3 storm as it moved away from the Dominican Republic’s northern coast early Tuesday.
This is the first major hurricane – Category 3 or higher – of this year’s Atlantic hurricane season.
The Turks and Caicos islands could see a total of 5 to 10 inches of rain from Fiona as well as storm surges – ocean water pushed onto land – of up to 3 feet above normal tide levels, the hurricane center said Tuesday night.
Hurricane conditions continued in Turks and Caicos Tuesday night and tropical storm conditions – winds of at least 39 mph – were expected over parts of the southeastern Bahamas for the next several hours, the hurricane center said.
Continued strengthening is expected as Fiona turns from the Turks and Caicos. It could be a Category 4 storm – with sustained winds of 130 to 156 mph – by late Wednesday over the Atlantic. It could still be at Category 4 when it passes Bermuda, forecasters say.
Over the weekend, Fiona might make landfall in eastern Canada as a hurricane. It is too early to know exactly where or how strong it might be.
Fiona leaves behind devastated Puerto Rico
Tuesday marks five years since Hurricane Maria’s catastrophic landfall in Puerto Rico and some who lived through the 2017 crisis say Fiona’s flooding destruction could be even more severe.
Juan Miguel Gonzalez, a business owner in Puerto Rico, told CNN that his neighborhood had still not finished its recovery from Maria when Fiona struck. But this time, he says, the flooding brought even more damage to their homes.
“A lot of people – more than (during) Maria – lost their houses now … lost everything in their houses because of the flooding,” Gonzalez told CNN on Monday. “Maria was tough winds. But this one, with all the rain, it just destroyed everything in the house.”
Water service also was interrupted for most, because river flooding affected filtration processes and must recede before safe treatment can resume, officials said. On Tuesday morning, about 60% of customers on the island had no running water, the territory’s aqueduct and sewer authority said.
More than 1,200 people were staying in about 70 shelters on the island Tuesday, Pierluisi said.
In addition to the hundreds of Puerto Rican National Guard members aiding in rescue and recovery efforts, the White House said Monday that President Joe Biden told Pierluisi during a phone call that federal support will increase in the coming days.
FEMA administrator Deanne Criswell traveled to the island Tuesday to assess damages and the agency announced it was deploying several teams to bolster response efforts on the ground.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul also announced the state would send 100 state troopers to assist relief efforts in Puerto Rico. She also said teams from New York Power Authority are available to help with power restoration.
More than 1 million customers without water service in Dominican Republic
In the Dominican Republic, where up to 20 inches of rain fell in places, emergency workers brought nearly 800 people to safety, Méndez García said Monday. At least 519 people were taking refuge in the country’s 29 shelters Monday, he said.
More than 2,100 households were affected by the storm and more than 600 homes destroyed, Méndez García said in a Tuesday update. And at least 23 roads and 18 bridges sustained damage, leaving 12 communities cut off.
As of Tuesday evening, more than 1.85 million customers were without running water as a result of the storm’s damage, he said, adding that 68 aqueducts were out of service across the Dominican Republic, with a handful of others only partially working.
Some in the Dominican Republic were also without electricity Monday as 10 electric circuits went offline, emergency management officials said. It’s unclear how many people are impacted by the outages.
Correction: This story has been updated with the correct age of the second victim in Puerto Rico, after updated information from officials.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago in Puerto Rico and CNN’s Nikki Carvajal, Robert Shackelford, Artemis Moshtaghian, Taylor Ward, Holly Yan, Jamiel Lynch and Amanda Musa contributed to this report