September 19, 2022 Hurricane Fiona slams Puerto Rico

By Dakin Andone, Pete Burn, Mike Hayes and Elise Hammond, CNN

Updated 9:31 PM ET, Mon September 19, 2022
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6:58 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

2 people have died as a result of Hurricane Fiona, Puerto Rico official says

From CNN’s Amanda Musa

At least two people died as a result of Hurricane Fiona, a spokesperson for Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi told CNN on Monday.

A 58-year-old man died after being swept away by La Plata River behind his home in Comerío. Another man in his 30s died after attempting to fill his generator with gasoline while it was on, setting it on fire, according to spokesperson Sheila Angleró-Mojica.

7:07 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Former San Juan mayor outlines ideal next steps for helping Puerto Rico

People clean debris from a road after a mudslide caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico on September 18.
People clean debris from a road after a mudslide caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico on September 18. (Stephanie Rojas/AP)

As Hurricane Fiona moves away from Puerto Rico, communities there are going to need help in order to recover and rebuild, according to Carmen Yulín Cruz, the former mayor of San Juan. And she laid out the some steps for what she believes should happen next.

The first is the provision of equipment.

She told CNN on Monday that mayors are telling her they need machinery to move mud from mudslides before it sets and becomes "really, really sticky and almost impenetrable."

They will need to clear out this mud in the next few days once it stops raining in order to ensure first responders and aid workers can reach communities safely, Yulín Cruz said.

Also, she said, FEMA needs to adapt to the local conditions, noting that the agency had recently reported that most municipalities don't have the English language skills, which can delay some technical processes when responding to an emergency.

That hurdle has to be overcome very quickly," Yulín Cruz said.

When it comes to rebuilding the infrastructure itself, the former mayor said "we need to start looking for permanent solutions to recurrent problems."

"We also need people power to do all the work that's going to need to be done in the next few days, but I have hope. We are relentless, and we will make it," she added.
5:49 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Hurricane Fiona strengthens to Category 2

From CNN's Taylor Ward

A man walks through debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on September 19.
A man walks through debris in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico on September 19. (Ricardo Arduengo/Reuters)

Hurricane Fiona is strengthening again as the center of the storm moves away from the northern coast of the Dominican Republic. Maximum sustained winds are up to 100 mph, making it a Category 2 storm.

The tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico has been discontinued as the threat of strong winds has diminished. There is a lingering flood threat as heavy rain from the outer bands continues to impact the island. Additional rainfall of 4 to 8 inches is possible, especially in the heaviest bands, according to the National Hurricane Center's forecast.

The center of Fiona is now located about 130 miles southeast of Grand Turk. On the forecast track, the center of the storm will pass near or to the east of the Turks and Caicos on Tuesday.

“Hurricane conditions are expected in the Turks and Caicos beginning late tonight or early Tuesday,” the hurricane center said.

Beyond tomorrow, Fiona is expected to become a Category 3 or 4 hurricane and pass near or west of Bermuda Thursday night.

4:42 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Biden pledges response and recovery support to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Fiona

From CNN's Nikki Carvajal

Homes are flooded on Salinas Beach after the passing of Hurricane Fiona in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday.
Homes are flooded on Salinas Beach after the passing of Hurricane Fiona in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday. (Alejandro Granadillo/AP)

President Biden spoke to Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi about the “immediate needs of the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Fiona" on Monday. The President was flying back from Queen Elizabeth II’s funeral during the call, the White House says. 

“President Biden described the surge of Federal support to the island, where more than 300 Federal personnel are already working to assist with response and recovery,” according to a readout of the call, provided by the White House. “In the coming days, as damage assessments are conducted, the President said that number of support personnel will increase substantially.”

Biden also told Pierluisi he would “ensure that the Federal team remains on the job to get it done, especially given that Puerto Rico is still recovering from the damage of Hurricane Maria five years ago this week," the readout said.

Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell will travel to Puerto Rico Tuesday to “meet with State and local officials and impacted citizens and assess urgent needs that the President has directed FEMA to meet,” the White House added. 

As CNN previously reported, rescuers are scrambling to save flooding victims in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona wiped out power to most of the island before crashing into the Dominican Republic.

4:38 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

The climate crisis is making hurricanes more intense. Here's how.

From CNN's Rachel Ramirez

Residents stand amid their homes that were damaged by Hurricane Fiona in the neighborhood of Kosovo in Veron de Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on September 19.
Residents stand amid their homes that were damaged by Hurricane Fiona in the neighborhood of Kosovo in Veron de Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on September 19. (Ricardo Hernandez/AP)

Hurricanes are enormous heat engines of wind and rain that feed on warm ocean water and moist air — and scientists say the climate crisis is making them more potent.

The proportion of high-intensity hurricanes has increased due to warmer global temperatures, according to a UN climate report released in August. Scientists have also found that the storms are more likely to stall and lead to devastating rainfall and they last longer after making landfall.

“We have good confidence that greenhouse warming increases the maximum wind intensity that tropical cyclones can achieve,” Jim Kossin, senior scientist with the Climate Service, an organization that provides climate risk modeling and analytics to governments and businesses, told CNN.

“This, in turn, allows for the strongest hurricanes — which are the ones that create the most risk by far — to become even stronger," he added.

When hurricanes are stronger and move slower, they dump more rain, meaning more damage and flooding in the areas they pass over.

2020 study published in the journal Nature also found storms are moving farther inland than they did five decades ago. Hurricanes, which are fueled by warm ocean water, typically weaken after moving over land, but in recent years they have been raging longer after landfall. The study concludes that warmer sea surface temperatures are leading to a “slower decay” by increasing moisture that a hurricane carries.

For every fraction of a degree the planet warms, according to the UN report, rainfall rates from high-intensity storms will increase, as warmer air can hold more moisture. Earlier this week, what had been Tropical Storm Fred dumped more than 10 inches of rain on western North Carolina, according to the National Weather Service, which pushed the Pigeon River near Canton nine feet above flood stage and killed at least four people.

Learn more.

4:08 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

2 people dead in Puerto Rico shelters from "natural causes," governor says

From CNN’s Amanda Musa

Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said during a press conference Monday at least two people have died at shelters on the island. 

Asked if the fatalities were caused by Hurricane Fiona, Pierluisi said they do not know of any traumatic deaths and the two people at the shelters died from natural causes.

“We are confirming these at this time because the institute of forensic sciences has a job to do,” Pierluisi said. “Whatever death, whether it is related directly or indirectly to this event, will be reported. That is what I can say at this time.”

Meanwhile, Pierluisi said there are currently no reports of anyone missing due to the storm.

4:14 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

Rebuilding efforts need to look to the future — not the past, former FEMA official says

Volunteers remove the water brought by Hurricane Fiona at a storm shelter in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday, September 19.
Volunteers remove the water brought by Hurricane Fiona at a storm shelter in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday, September 19. (Stephanie Rojas/AP)

Craig Fugate, a former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) administrator, said natural disasters and storms like Hurricane Fiona, the rebuilding process needs to be looking towards the future, not the past.

Almost exactly five years ago, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico with high winds, but now some of the same communities are facing a different problem with Hurricane Fiona — devastating flooding and a lot of rain, something they didn't experience during Hurricane Maria.

Fugate said that when rebuilding starts and officials go back into the areas where people are living, they need to “build back against all the threats of these storms. It isn’t just wind that we’re seeing with this storm."

The former FEMA administrator said much of the infrastructure that was repaired after Maria was temporary. Now, most of it was washed away by flooding from Fiona.

“It’s important that when we rebuild after these disaster, we’re rebuilding for the future, not what’s happened in the past," he told CNN on Monday.

“The insanity of going back and putting it back the way it was isn’t working. We’ve got to really focus on making the investments of where we’re going to rebuild, how we’re going to rebuild. Because the climate has changed — how we’ve been rebuilding and developing hasn’t caught up yet," he added.

The role of the climate crisis: Hurricanes — also called tropical cyclones or typhoons outside North America — are enormous heat engines of wind and rain that feed on warm ocean water and moist air. And scientists say the climate crisis is making them more potent.

The proportion of high-intensity hurricanes has increased due to warmer global temperatures, according to a UN climate report released last month. Scientists have also found that the storms are more likely to stall and lead to devastating rainfall and they last longer after making landfall.

3:44 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

More than 1 million people without water as Hurricane Fiona hits Dominican Republic

From CNN's Melissa Alonso

A person walks amidst debris on the seashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on September 19.
A person walks amidst debris on the seashore in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic on September 19. (Ricardo Rojas/Reuters)

Hurricane Fiona has knocked 59 aqueducts out of service in the Dominican Republic, with several others partially functioning, leaving more than 1 million customers without running water, said Jose Luis German Mejia, a Dominican Republic emergency management (COE) official.

There's already damage to many structures across the Dominican Republic, said Juan Manuel Mendez, the country's emergency management director of operations. At least 54 homes have been reported damaged so far, he said.

Emergency officials transported 789 people to safety, Mendez said at a briefing Monday. There are currently 519 people in 29 shelters, he said.

There are 10 electric circuits offline currently, but officials did not have an exact number of how many customers were without power.

Mejia said "this is still an emergency event" and the storm is still affecting the country.

Raquel Peña, the nation's vice president, tweeted Monday afternoon urging the Dominican people "to be attentive to the information from" COE and officials "given that the effects of hurricane #Fiona will continue in the next few hours."

"The government is in permanent session, responding to the emergency," she said.

5:34 p.m. ET, September 19, 2022

"It's unbelievable": Some Puerto Rico residents say Hurricane Fiona is worse than Hurricane Maria

Residents affected by Hurricane Fiona rest at a storm shelter in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday.
Residents affected by Hurricane Fiona rest at a storm shelter in Salinas, Puerto Rico on Monday. (Stephanie Rojas/AP)

Dealing with catastrophic flooding, mudslides and widespread power outages, some people in Puerto Rico are comparing the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona to Hurricane Maria — the devastating storm that hit the island almost exactly five years ago.

Juan Miguel Gonzalez, a business owner in southern Puerto Rico, told CNN correspondent Leyla Santiago that he thinks Hurricane Fiona has been worse than Maria. He said a lot of people have lost everything in the flooding.

“Maria was tough winds, but this one with all the rain, destroyed everything on the houses — it's unbelievable," he said.

As search and rescue efforts continue on Monday, Gonzalez told Santiago that it's a small town and residents there feel like they need to take care of themselves.

"Who’s going to take care of this town? Nobody, you know what I’m saying? If we don’t take care of it, nobody’s going to take care of it," he said.

The National Guard was called in to rescue hundreds of people overnight, Santiago reported, but there are still places in Puerto Rico that are too dangerous for rescue crews to get to as rain continues to fall on Monday.

Some background: Hurricane Maria inflicted catastrophic damage to the territory’s infrastructure. It took almost a year for power to be restored across the island.

Right now, after Fiona, more than 1 million people are still without power, as of Monday morning. Additionally, about 66% of customers don't have water, Santiago reported.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency says the response to Maria was the largest and longest to a domestic disaster in US history. Massive flooding damaged more than half a million homes. Many families are still rebuilding.