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Puerto Rico hit with power outage, faces ‘catastrophic’ flooding after Hurricane Fiona makes landfall

Nearly 5 years after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Sunday’s storm brings 85-mph winds, pounding rains and “catastrophic” flood potential to the U.S. territory.
/ Source: NBC News

Puerto Rico was without power as nightfall approached Sunday amid catastrophic flooding, hurricane force winds and the destruction of at least one bridge, five years nearly to the day after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.

Hurricane Fiona made landfall at 3:20 p.m. and quickly caused upheaval, with government officials saying they were prepared to evacuate residents of hard-hit areas.

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference Sunday that the tropical cyclone came “directly for the island.” Later, in a statement, he said that the eye of the storm was headed away but that the storm’s impacts would continue through at least Monday.

Nearly 1.5 million utility customers were left without power, in the wake of winds estimated at 85 mph, well above minimum hurricane force. The National Hurricane Center said Puerto Rico could get 12 to 18 inches of rain, with 30 inches possible in some areas.

The government said in a statement late Sunday that an estimated 196,000 people were without potable water as a result of the storm. Officials counted 1,033 evacuees in 130 storm shelters set up for Fiona, it said. And about 1 in 5 cellphone towers were inoperable, the government said.

Pierluisi said the storm dumped 9 to 13 inches of rain in five hours.

“These rains will produce life-threatening and catastrophic flash and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the hurricane center said in an early evening advisory.

Earlier, Pierluisi tried to reassure Puerto Ricans that the government was prepared for the worst, saying in a statement that the necessary protocols were in place.

Nelson Cirino secures the windows of his home as the winds of Hurricane Fiona blow in Loiza, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 18, 2022.
Nelson Cirino secures the windows of his home as the winds of Hurricane Fiona blow in Loiza, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 18, 2022.Alejandro Granadillo / AP

First responders were answering calls to emergencies in which people’s lives were in danger, he said.

The number of customers without power was 1,468,223, according to That includes businesses, households and other accounts with multiple people who receive electricity.

Island utility LUMA Energy said in its own statement that it might need several days to restore power, given the dangerous conditions on the island Sunday night and the widespread nature of the outage.

It said the energy grid suffered multiple outages along transmission lines, which contributed to the islandwide blackout.

Later Sunday night, LUMA said it had deployed nearly 2,000 workers and had five helicopters at the ready in order to respond to outages. In a statement, the utility touted electricity restoration work in the mountain town of Ciales, where lines were taken out by downed trees and branches.

The struggle for electricity recalled the bitter memory of one of the worst storms to ever hit Puerto Rico, Maria, the deadliest natural disaster on U.S. territory in 100 years.

The storm, which was blamed for 2,975 deaths, struck Sept. 20, 2017, and quickly exposed the island’s grid as deteriorating.

The resulting blackout, which lasted nearly 11 months, became the world’s second longest.

Maria was preceded by Irma, which struck the Florida Keys on Sept. 10 as a Category 3 hurricane. It was eventually blamed for 10 fatalities.

FEMA on Sunday said it felt Puerto Ricans’ pain as another tropical cyclone threatened to upend daily life.

“We understand many are reliving the trauma of Hurricane Maria & Irma, 5 years later,” the agency tweeted. “They have our full support now & for as long as it takes to recover.”

Fiona continued to press relentless rain and whipping gusts into island communities Sunday night.

In the coastal city of Ponce, a roof made in part of asphalt was peeled from a structure and blown into a number of parked vehicles, according to an independent news crew and video reviewed by NBC News.

There were reports of gusts surpassing 100 mph in the area.

What appeared to be a vehicle bridge in the town of Utuado, in the mountainous Cordillera Central region, was washed away by storm water, according to multiple videos obtained by NBC News.

Video showed floodwaters where there used to be a river, downed power lines and property damage in the southern towns of Yauco and Guayanilla.

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