By Marina Villen and Jorge J. Muñiz Ortiz
San Juan/Toa Baja, Sep 19 (EFE).- Large areas of Puerto Rico have been devastated and much of the island is without electricity or water service, not to mention out of communication a day after Hurricane Fiona struck, and authorities are further concerned by the continued heavy rainfall.
The Category 1 storm on the 5-point Saffir-Simpson scale has dumped up to 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain on the island, causing rivers to overflow, sudden flooding and washed-out or inundated roadways.
One man drowned on Monday after being swept away by the waters of the La Plata River in Comercio, in central Puerto Rico, after the waters rose markedly due to Fiona’s heavy rainfall.
In Toa Baja, where on Sunday hundreds of people evacuated due to flooding, the situation on Monday remained dire with vehicles stranded in the midst of the flooding and trees knocked down everywhere.
Edward Oliveras, a crane operator, was monitoring the entrance to Toa Baja’s Ingenio neighborhood so that no more vehicles would get trapped by the overflowing of a nearby creek.
“People are going in because they’re desperate about their families who are there and we’re extending a hand to them,” said Oliveras, who by the time he spoke with EFE had rescued two vehicles.
The interim director of the National Weather Service (SNM), Ernesto Morales, warned that “the rains associated with Fiona are causing difficulties in the southern and interior portions of the island,” adding that “if this kind of rain continues, there will be catastrophic water levels.”
“What concerns us,” said Morales, is that authorities are expecting rain in the same sectors, in southern Puerto Rico and in the central mountains. “This is serious,” he added.
Along the same lines, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said that “unfortunately” more rain is expected on Monday and Tuesday, and the danger of flooding, avalanches and mudslides has not abated.
More than 2,100 people have taken refuse in 113 shelters all around the island, and in two of them two people died due to “natural causes,” one of them an 88-year-old woman who died of a heart attack in Mayaguez.
Dozens of roadways are closed and impassable due to trees and electric poles that have been downed, landslides or flooding, from Barceloneta in the north, throughout the central mountains to Ponce in the south, where Mayor Luiz Irizarry said that certain neighborhoods had been cut off.
Pierluisi said that the National Guard performed 30 rescues of 1,000 people in 25 municipalities around the island and that firefighters rescued another 83 people.
In many areas, the impact has been greater than in Hurricane Maria in 2017, the governor said, reiterating – as he said on Sunday – that “damage has been catastrophic.”
In the northern part of the island, in the city of Cataño, residents had to leave their homes. Along one of the flooded streets there, Juana Matos and Rafael Pagan Rivera were out on the street to help out a neighbor.
“The question is helping … the elderly, who cannot get to the stores. I’ve been out on the street doing that since about 4 am this morning,” Matos said.
Pagan Rivera said that he had been “unprepared” for the amount of rain but the important thing is that he and his eight children were all right, although seven of their chickens drowned.
Although the weather report is not good for next day or two, most of the island’s airports have reopened along with six maritime ports, but classes at public schools and universities have been suspended for Tuesday.
Authorities have not yet been able to determine the number of homes affected by the storm, but virtually all Puerto Ricans were experiencing power outages and lack of running water on Monday. There were long lines at some gasoline stations as people waited to buy gas to power their generators, while several cities established stations where people could get drinking water.
The goal is in a matter of days for a large portion of the public to have their electric service restored, said Pierluisi, who acknowledged that it is “impossible” to definitively say when power will be 100 percent restored because all the damage has not yet been evaluated.