Puerto Rico: They try to reach outlying areas of Fiona

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CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricane Fiona has left dozens of families isolated in Puerto Rico after destroying roads and bridges as authorities try to reach those areas, four days after the storm ripped through the United States, where it caused historic floods.

Currently, government officials are working with religious groups, NGOs and others braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt to get food, water and medicine to those most in need, but they are under pressure to clear roads allowing the arrival of vehicles in remote areas soon.

At least six communities on the island had isolated areas after the storm passed, estimated Nino Correa, commissioner of the local emergency management agency. Fiona made landfall on the island as a Category 1 hurricane but leveled up to a Category 4 on Wednesday as it made its way towards Bermuda.

Since Fiona’s arrival on Sunday, Manuel Veguilla has not been able to leave his quarters in the mountain town of Caguas in the north of the island.

“We’re all incommunicado,” he said, adding that he was worried about elderly neighbors, including his older brother, who didn’t have the strength to walk the long walk to the nearest community.

Veguilla heard city officials could open a road Thursday but doubted it would happen, pointing out there were large rocks on and around a nearby bridge.

Neighbors had shared the food and water left behind by the NGOs, and an elderly woman’s son was able to walk to them on Wednesday, he added.

According to Veguilla, he and others used pickaxes and shovels to clear debris during Maria, a Category 4 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 five years ago. But Fiona was different and caused huge landslides.

“I can’t throw the stones on my shoulder,” he said.

Like hundreds of other Puerto Ricans, Veguilla had no running water or electricity but said there was a natural water source nearby.

Fiona caused a widespread power outage across the island when it hit southwestern Puerto Rico, which was trying to recover from the powerful earthquakes of recent years. Around 70% of the 1.47 million users were still without power three days later, amid an extreme temperature warning from the National Weather Service. Almost 40% of customers, or more than half a million, were also without water.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), meanwhile, dispatched hundreds of additional workers to support local officials while the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and declared a public health emergency in the island.

Neither local authorities nor the federal government have estimated the cost of the damage Fiona caused in an area trying to recover from a meteor that dropped more than 76 centimeters (30 inches) of rain in some areas. More than 1,000 people were still in emergency shelters.

“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have suffered so much over the past two years,” said Brad Kieserman, Red Cross vice president of operations and logistics.

After Puerto Rico, Fiona met the Dominican Republic and passed through the Turks and Caicos Islands after gaining strength and becoming a Category 4 hurricane. Authorities in the country reported light damage and no fatalities, although the storm’s vortices passed near Grand Turk, the small island capital of British territory, on Tuesday.

“God has been good to us and protected us during this time when we could have been dating much worse,” said Lt. Governor Anya Williams.

Fiona is expected to pass near Bermuda early Friday and hit Canada’s Far East early Saturday, according to the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).

According to the NHC, Fiona was experiencing maximum sustained winds of 135 mph early Thursday. It was located 780 kilometers (458 miles) southwest of Bermuda and moving north at 20 km/h (13 mph), it added.

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