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US A week without power after Fiona, Puerto Ricans experience echoes of Hurricane Maria

21:31  25 september  2022
21:31  25 september  2022 Source:   nbcnews.com

All of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Fiona batters island

  All of Puerto Rico without power as Hurricane Fiona batters island Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico's southwest coast on Sunday after causing an island-wide power blackout and threatening to dump “historic” levels of rain.Hundreds of people were evacuated or rescued across the island as floodwaters rose swiftly. Rushing rivers of brown water enveloped cars, first floors and even an airport runway in the island’s southern region.

CABO ROJO, Puerto Rico — Driving in the pitch black winding roads of a mountain town on Saturday night, Hevel Vélez Luciano, 25, gazed ahead and took a deep breath. Beyond the mountain, there was a small cluster of lights in the distance, the only place in Cabo Rojo that has electricity.

Beyond that small area, which includes a few streets in the urban center and a main traffic light, the rest was a vast darkness.

“I’d say it doesn’t even reach 5% that is back,” Vélez Luciano, a tall man wearing a blue T-shirt with a silver chain, with blond streaks in his brown hair, said in Spanish.

For Puerto Ricans, the uncertainty of when electricity will be fully restored is a haunting echo of the catastrophic situation following Hurricane Maria five years ago, where it took some areas months and up to a year to regain power.

Puerto Ricans Fear Extended Blackout After Hurricane Fiona

  Puerto Ricans Fear Extended Blackout After Hurricane Fiona SAN JUAN, P.R. — Michelle Rivera trudged slowly up the stairs of her apartment building, stopping to collect her breath and regain the strength to carry one more gallon of water to her home on the eighth floor. It was Friday, the sixth day of a power blackout in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona. “I’m so tired,” said Ms. Rivera, 41, as she prepared to spend another night in the dark. “Exhausted of going up and down.” The rank smell of rotting“I’m so tired,” said Ms. Rivera, 41, as she prepared to spend another night in the dark. “Exhausted of going up and down.

About half of the nearly 1.5 million power customers are still without electricity on Sunday, a week after Fiona made landfall near Cabo Rojo, leaving the entire island in the dark.

Workers with Luma Energy attempt to restore power on a flooded street in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Daniella Silva / NBC News) © Daniella Silva Workers with Luma Energy attempt to restore power on a flooded street in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Daniella Silva / NBC News)

Most of the customers who’ve been reconnected to the power grid are in the northeast, where the storm caused less damage. As of early Sunday, about 802,000 power customers had their electricity restored, about 55% of all customers, according to the Puerto Rican government’s emergency portal.

About 80%, or 1,062,192 customers, have had their water service restored as of Saturday afternoon, according to the Water and Sewer Authority. About 20% of customers still have no water.

Puerto Rico's schools struggled long before Hurricane Fiona. Now they need more help

  Puerto Rico's schools struggled long before Hurricane Fiona. Now they need more help Puerto Rico's schools have seen many shutdowns in recent years. Hurricane Fiona could create another setback for student achievement.On Friday, Hurricane Fiona was on its way toward Northeastern Canada after causing heavy downpour and torrential waves in Bermuda and leaving Puerto Rico with damaging winds and torrential rains that led to devastating infrastructure collapse, widespread blackouts, detrimental flooding and at least four human deaths in its path. The full scope of Hurricane Fiona’s damage to Puerto Rican school buildings was still being measured and many that were unaffected were being used to shelter the displaced.

“It’s a disgrace that a week after this storm, which was strong and did its damage but was not Hurricane Maria, that we still don’t fully have water,” Vélez Luciano said. In Cabo Rojo about 20% to 25% of customers still don't have water service. “It’s disrespectful.”

Hevel Velez Luciano distributes food and supplies in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Daniella Silva / NBC News) © Daniella Silva Hevel Velez Luciano distributes food and supplies in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 24, 2022. (Daniella Silva / NBC News)

Vélez Luciano had just spent another day in the scorching heat, distributing cases of bottled water, ice, food and other much-needed supplies in the southwestern municipality of Cabo Rojo, where he is a community leader.

The water that is coming out of the government system is still unreliable and drinking water remains a precious resource, he said.

In Cabo Rojo, the main concern is the area’s hospital, which on Saturday night was still running on a massive, roaring generator.

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  Hurricane Ian lashes Cuba, aims at Florida as possible Cat 4 HAVANA (AP) — A strengthening Hurricane Ian’s rain and winds lashed Cuba’s western tip, where authorities have evacuated 50,000 people, as it roared on a path that could see it hit Florida’s west coast as a Category 4 hurricane. © Provided by Associated Press Workers remove a boat from the water in the bay of Havana, Cuba, Monday, Sept. 26, 2022. Hurricane Ian was growing stronger as it approached the western tip of Cuba on a track to hit the west coast of Florida as a major hurricane as early as Wednesday.

Earlier on Saturday, brigades from Luma Energy, the company in charge of power transmission and distribution, worked on a flooded road, replacing poles and repairing the main transmission line that powers the hospital.

For days, long lines have formed outside gas stations, with lines about half a mile long and people waiting between an hour and three hours at many locations. Since the hurricane, fuel and diesel have become essential to daily life in Puerto Rico, mainly to power the generators.

Government officials say there’s enough fuel and diesel for 60 days and insist challenges are about distribution, not supply. But some businesses such as grocery stores and pharmacies have had to close over the lack of power or fuel to operate their generators or because of lack of water.

People play pool in a bar on Sept. 20, 2022, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez / Getty Images) © Jose Jimenez People play pool in a bar on Sept. 20, 2022, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez / Getty Images)

Yeliska Vargas, a Cabo Rojo resident and restaurant owner, had not been able to reopen her business. The water pump that services the area near her restaurant stopped working because of the lack of power, causing an overflow of sewage water that has left lingering dark, dirty water and a putrid smell.

DHS waives Jones Act for Puerto Rico to supply fuel after hurricane

  DHS waives Jones Act for Puerto Rico to supply fuel after hurricane Legislators and activists had previously pressured the Biden administration to waive the law.The decision to make came in "response to urgent and immediate needs of the Puerto Rican people in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona ... to ensure that the people of Puerto Rican have sufficient diesel to run generators needed for electricity and the functioning critical facilities," Department of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement Wednesday.

“It’s one week exactly that I can’t open my business, where I can’t make money, I can’t pay my employees. They are also concerned about working in an area without power. We’re in a very difficult situation,” said Vargas, who owns La Bodeguita del Puerto restaurant.

'Puerto Rico is completely devastated'

When asked what she would want to see from the federal response and from President Joe Biden, she said she wanted Biden to come to Puerto Rico and see the extent of the damage.

“It’s important for him to come and not just stay in one area, but get a representation of the reality on the island and the impacted municipalities,” she said. “It would be a big relief for a lot of people.”

People wait in line at the Top Fuel gas station to fill their tanks on Sept. 20, 2022, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez / Getty Images) © Jose Jimenez People wait in line at the Top Fuel gas station to fill their tanks on Sept. 20, 2022, in Cabo Rojo, Puerto Rico. (Jose Jimenez / Getty Images)

Her sister, Ileana Vargas, 54, also said it would mean a lot for Biden to come and see that “Puerto Rico is completely devastated.” Vargas was a supervisor at a nearby hospital on the day Fiona made landfall and said that four babies were born in the hospital in the midst of the strong winds and rains. The hospital remains running on a generator, she said.

A week after Fiona, some roads and streets remained flooded in Cabo Rojo. A small bridge collapsed and dozens of houses were destroyed, Velez Luciano said. Others suffered major damage including torn-off roofs. Velez Luciano also lost his home after Fiona’s winds shook the house and ripped off parts, allowing rain waters to come in. He said he was able to save some important documents and clothes, but “everything else was lost.”

Buildings leveled. Homes underwater. Fort Myers Beach 'is gone' after Hurricane Ian damage.

  Buildings leveled. Homes underwater. Fort Myers Beach 'is gone' after Hurricane Ian damage. A chunk of the causeway connecting Sanibel Island to Florida's mainland had fallen into the sea Wednesday, cutting off access to the barrier island.She watched her neighbors wade to and from their homes, hoping to salvage something from the wreckage. She wondered how her home in the nearby Iona Ranch mobile home had fared after Hurricane Ian, but knew the devastation likely took it as well.

Tallying the deaths

As of Saturday, at least 16 people had died because of Hurricane Fiona, according to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health, which is tracking hurricane-related deaths. The only death classified as “directly” related to the hurricane was that of a 58-year-old man in the town of Comerío, who was found dead on the side of a river.

Three other deaths have been classified as “indirectly” related to the hurricane; the rest are being investigated to see how they should be categorized. At least five deaths occurred because people lacked power. They experienced deadly accidents with generators or candles being used to light up their dark homes.

Five years ago, nearly 3,000 people died in the months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, a far higher number than the government’s first official death toll of 64. Hurricane Maria triggered one of the longest power blackouts in history and left many Puerto Ricans without access to potentially life-saving needs.

Mayors take matters into their own hands

While Fiona’s damages are evident to most residents in Puerto Rico, the local government expects to have a preliminary estimate on damages caused by the hurricane in the next two weeks.

But mayors in remote and battered towns where power restoration has taken too long are starting to get desperate — and are even taking matters into their own hands.

When Bayamón Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera Cruz was on the brink of starting to hire his own experts and workers to fix damaged power lines, Luma Energy reached an agreement with him, officially authorizing him to do so in a safe way. The work to replace light posts and install cables started Saturday in the community of La Peña. The idea was to help Luma Energy rebuild as much as possible so it can just focus on re-energizing the system.

Behind the blackout triggered by Hurricane Fiona is a long-embattled history of Puerto Rico's weak and outdated electrical grid

  Behind the blackout triggered by Hurricane Fiona is a long-embattled history of Puerto Rico's weak and outdated electrical grid Less than two weeks after Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Puerto Rico, triggering an islandwide blackout for 1.5 million customers, power has been restored to 84% of residents, officials said. Fiona hit the US territory as a Category 1 storm September 18, dropping record rainfall, unleashing mudslides, flooding neighborhoods and leaving most of the island without power or water. The island’s health department said at least 25 deaths may be linked to the storm.

In the town of Aguadilla, Mayor Julio Roldán Concepción followed his colleague's lead and hired his own team to bring fallen light posts and cables back up to where they belong.

A house that was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 21, 2022. (Alejandro Granadillo / AP) © Alejandro Granadillo A house that was washed away by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 21, 2022. (Alejandro Granadillo / AP)

“I’m fed up,” Roldán Concepción said on Facebook Live on Friday, announcing the start of their work Saturday. “By the time Luma gets here, they will have zero excuses to not restore power.”

In Utuado, Mayor Jorge Pérez Heredia released an open letter to Luma Energy Thursday begging the company to connect the town to a nearby power plant that has already been energized, since Utuado “has one of the largest populations of older adults,” he said.

“I assure you, Utuado is ready to be energized,” Pérez Heredia, who has previous experience working with power lines, said in his letter.

In response, a Luma Energy spokesperson said the company planned on connecting Utuado to the energized power plant Friday. On Friday night, Pérez Heredia went on Facebook Live announcing that the town center and the hospital had been energized.

“There’s still work to be done, but electric service is already being restored in our town,” he said in Spanish.

Daniella Silva reported from Puerto Rico and Nicole Acevedo reported from New York.

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This article was originally published on NBCNews.com

Puerto Rico hurricane survivors remain hopeful and skeptical after Biden’s visit .
In Puerto Rico, President Joe Biden's visit to pledge help after Hurricane Fiona was seenas important but residents wondered if it will have an impact on recovery.Mercedita International Airport in Ponce, where the Bidens landed, was submerged under brown water just two weeks ago when Hurricane Fiona brought heavy rains that caused a nearby river to burst out of its bank and flood the area with 6 feet of water.

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