Hurricane Fiona brings “catastrophic” flooding, cuts power across Puerto Rico

An intensifying Hurricane Fiona is bringing heavy rains, high winds and power outages to Puerto Rico. Tea power has been knocked out to the entire island.

The big picture: The storm threatens to dump more than two feet of rain in Puerto Rico, leading to “catastrophic” flooding, the National Hurricane Center warns. Hurricane-force winds have taken out the island’s fragile power grid.

  • Hurricane Fiona made landfall near Punta Tocon, located on the island’s southeastern coast, around 3:20 pm local time, the National Hurricane Center said in a tweet. Maximum sustained winds were clocked at 85 mph, the agency said.
  • The storm has seen winds increase by 15 mph since the NHC updated on then-Tropical Storm Fiona at 8 am ET.
  • The storm is a Category 1 hurricane and is expected to remain so through landfall in Puerto Rico.
  • Ponce, on the southern side of the island, has seen sustained winds of 69 mph with a maximum wind gust of 103 mph, per the Hurricane Center.
  • President Biden has already declared a federal disaster for Puerto Rico, mobilizing the delivery of aid to the island.
  Data: National Hurricane Center;  Map: Jared Whalen/Axios
Data: National Hurricane Center; Map: Jared Whalen/Axios

Threat level: The storm is likely to bring torrential rains to Puerto Rico through Monday, with a widespread area of ​​12 to 16 inches of rain expected. Higher amounts will fall in some locations, particularly in higher elevations, where as much as 25 inches could fall in a short period of time.

  • “These rains will produce life-threatening and catastrophic flash flooding and urban flooding across Puerto Rico and the eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the Hurricane Center warned as of 2 pm Sunday.
  • Nearly the entire island was under a flash flood warning as of 4:15 pm ET.
  • Heavy rains and hurricane-force winds are also expected in eastern areas of the Dominican Republic on Sunday night and Monday.
  • Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was severely damaged during Hurricane Maria in 2017, has faltered, with about 1.4 million customers without power as of 2 pm ET, according to Poweroutage.us.
  • The test for utility operators now will be how quickly they can restore power once the storm passes.

  • Storm surge flooding of 1 to 3 feet above normally dry land is expected along the south shore of Puerto Rico on Saturday, provided the peak surge hits at high tide.
  • The NWS in San Juan was issuing flash flood warnings throughout Sunday as the rains cause rivers and streams to rise. Video from social media shows torrents of water washing away bridges, power lines and other infrastructure in southwestern Puerto Rico.

Of note: The storm already has a record of causing damaging flooding, having dumped nearly 20 inches of rain on the French island of Guadeloupe late last week.

What’s next: Fiona is expected to continue to intensify once it moves northwest of Puerto Rico and north of the Dominican Republic. The storm is expected to turn slowly to the north by midweek as it moves near or over the Turks and Caicos Islands.

  • It is now expected that Fiona will become the season’s first “major” Atlantic hurricane of the season, at Category 3 intensity or greater by midweek.
  • Most computer models now take the storm out to sea well east of the US mainland, but it could be a threat to Bermuda late in the week.

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