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Fiona evolves into a Category 4 storm, heading towards Bermuda

CAGUAS, Puerto Rico – More than half a million people in Puerto Rico remained without water on Wednesday – three days after Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the US territory – prompting many people to queue for hours to refill their water tanks from water trucks and people. another to draw water from mountain streams.

Sweat rolls down the faces of people in long lines of cars in the mountain town of northern Caguas, where authorities have set up a water truck, one of at least 18 so-called “oases” established by the government. set up all over the island.

The debacle has upset many on an island once again left without basic services after a storm.

“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but it was worse,” said Gerardo Rodríguez of the southern seaside town of Salinas, in the southern coastal town of Salinas. about the 2017 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 people and destroyed the electrical grid of the United States.

Fiona dumped about 2 feet of rain on parts of Puerto Rico before blowing up across the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The storm is on track to pass near Bermuda late Thursday or Friday and then make landfall in extreme eastern Canada late Friday, according to the US National Hurricane Center, according to the US National Hurricane Center. .

The hurricane devastated Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was patched but never fully rebuilt after Maria caused an 11-month blackout in several places.

As of Wednesday afternoon, about 70% of Puerto Rican customers lacked electricity, according to government data.

In Caguas, Emayra Veguilla’s car’s air conditioning didn’t work, so the 34-year-old bus driver put a small fan in the passenger seat. Earlier that day, she performed the song “Hijos del Canaveral,” (“Sons of the Sugarcane Field”), written by Puerto Rican hip-hop star René Pérez as a tribute to Puerto Rico and her heart. bravery of the people here.

“I need a patriotic heart,” she said. “I need the strength to do this again.”

Veguilla waited in line on Tuesday, only to be told the water had run out and another truck would not be available until the next day.

Some people ahead of Veguilla gave up and drove off, with tensions high as those waited longer.

“Move!” One driver shouted, afraid of people trying to squeeze in.

Instead, some people who saw the line chose to drive to a nearby road, where fresh water trickled down the mountainside through a bamboo pipe someone had installed.

Greg Reyes, a 24-year-old English teacher, stands in line in muddy flip-flops to get water for himself, his girlfriend and their cat. He had brought with him a large bag containing all the empty containers he could find in their house, including more than a dozen small water bottles.

Reyes said he and his partner have been buying water since Fiona’s attack, but can’t afford it much longer.

Standing behind him was William Rodríguez, 67, a retired man surrounded by three large buckets and four 1-gallon containers. He lived in Massachusetts and decided to return to Puerto Rico about six months ago.

“But I think I’ll leave again,” he said as he shook his head.

Those in the stream complained about the slow pace of recovery and accused the government of not helping them.

Juan Santos, a 70-year-old retiree who holds his 5-year-old grandson’s hand, said: “This has not been easy. “We are suffering.”

None of those in the line had electricity, and many wondered how long it would take to restore it to what it did with Hurricane Maria.

Power company officials initially said it would take several days for power to be restored, but then reappeared on Tuesday night, saying they faced numerous obstacles.

“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generating facilities across the island. We would like to clarify that efforts to restore and restore power continue and are being impacted by severe flooding, impassable roads, fallen trees, degraded equipment and downed power lines.” Luma, the company that operates the distribution and transmission of electricity, said.

The hum of generators could be heard throughout the territory as people became increasingly exasperated.

“I continue to hope that by the end of today, a large portion of the population will have these services,” said Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency arrived in Puerto Rico on Tuesday and the agency announced it will send hundreds of additional personnel to advance local response efforts.

Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and deployed a few teams to the island.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported relatively light damage and no deaths, although the eye of the Category 4 storm passed near Grand Turk, a small British territory, on Tuesday.

Deputy Governor Anya Williams said: “The Turks and Caicos have had an extraordinary experience over the last 24 hours. “It certainly comes with challenges.”

The Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 km/h) on Wednesday and it was centered about 675 miles (1,090 km) southwest of Bermuda, heading north with 8 mph (13 km/h).

Fiona killed a man in the French overseas department in Guadeloupe and two others in Puerto Rico were swept away by river floods. Two people have died in the Dominican Republic: one from a fallen tree and the other from a fallen power pole.

Two other deaths have been reported in Puerto Rico from power outages: A 70-year-old man burned to death after trying to fill his running generator with gasoline, and a 78-year-old man, police reported to have inhaled poisonous gas from him. generator.

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Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.

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