Disasters & Accidents

Hurricane Fiona exacts heavy toll on Puerto Rico’s poorest communities

By Esther Alaejos

Ponce, Puerto Rico, Sep 22 (EFE).- Puerto Rico’s National Guard is providing urgent food assistance to poor districts of this southern city that were cut off due to severe flooding triggered by Hurricane Fiona, which dropped up to 76 centimeters (30 inches) of rain early this week on the southern portion of the island.

“I’m surprised because we’re a forgotten community, as if we’d never existed, and for these people to come help us is really moving,” Viviana Ruiz, a 40-year-old mother of three children and resident of the community of El Sol, told Efe.

The potent winds of that Category 1 hurricane ripped off the tin roofs of about a dozen homes in that neglected, low-income district, which has been without electricity for years.

Ruiz recalled that the hurricane made her home shake, saying she had never experienced anything like that in a wooden house.

Fifty-five-year-old Luis Antonio Sanchez, who lives with his father in that same community, said he was “very nervous” during the passage of Hurricane Fiona.

“I could see the tin roofs flying and that was really worrying,” Sanchez said of other homes in a neighborhood poorly prepared for winds in excess of 113 kilometers (70 miles) per hour.

Torrential rain associated with the hurricane caused the Inabon River, which runs to the east of the city of Ponce, to burst its banks and cut off several areas of the larger municipality.

“Almost three days of lack of communication with these sectors, and the rural area, where it had already been raining prior to Hurricane Fiona,” Ponce Mayor Luis M. Irizarry said.

The flooding also forced a three-day shutdown of Ponce’s Mercedita International Airport, which did not reopen until Wednesday, or two days after the other airports on the United States commonwealth.

That facility now is able to receive supplies and assist with an aid effort that has already seen some 6,000 boxes of food and water distributed in the communities of El Sol, Punta Diamante, Belgica and San Anton by 600 Puerto Rican National Guard troops and officials with the Puerto Rico Department of Family Affairs and the municipal government.

That assistance has thus far helped 200 families affected by Fiona.

“They’re boxes for a family of four with a Puerto Rican-style balanced diet” that includes a week’s worth of rice and beans, the commanding officer of Puerto Rico’s National Guard, Jose J. Reyes, told Efe.

Puerto Rico has been battered by a series of hurricanes over the past quarter century, including Georges (Category 3) in 1998 and Maria, a devastating Category 4 hurricane that caused nearly 3,000 deaths in 2017.

“This house can’t take anymore. It withstood Georges, it withstood Maria, now Fiona. I think it won’t withstand one more hurricane. I’m not going to stay here. When they say another one’s coming, I’ll already be out of this house,” Jose Rodriguez, a 45-year-old contractor who lives with his wife in Punta Diamante, said laughing.

He added that he felt afraid during the passage of Fiona, which packed maximum sustained winds of 140 km/hr and caused his house to shake.

Apart from Ponce, the National Guard also is delivering supplies to hard-hit municipalities in different parts of the island: Ceiba, Vega Baja, Toa Baja, Utuado, Arroyo, Maunabo and Comerio. EFE


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