CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) — Three days after Hurricane Fiona hit U.S. territory, more than half a million people in Puerto Rico are still without water service, with many queuing for hours Wednesday to fill up water trucks jugs, while others run off from Mt.
In the northern mountain town of Caguas, the faces of people in rows of cars were sweating as the government dispatched a water truck, one of at least 18 so-called “oases” across the island.
After the storm, many people on the island once again lost essential services in a maddening situation.
“We thought our experience with Maria was bad, but it was worse,” Gerardo Rodriguez said in the southern coastal town of Salinas, referring to 2017 that killed nearly 3,000 people and devastated the island Grid hurricane.
Fiona dumped about two feet of rain in parts of Puerto Rico before it exploded in the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
The storm, which has inflated to a Category 4, will pass near Bermuda early Friday before hitting easternmost Canada early Saturday, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
The storm wreaked havoc on Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was patched but never fully rebuilt after Maria caused an 11-month outage in some places.
About 70 percent of Puerto Rico customers were without power as of Wednesday afternoon, according to government data.
In Caguas, Emayra Veguilla’s car air conditioner failed, so the bus driver set up a small fan in the passenger seat. Earlier, she had slammed Puerto Rican hip-hop star Rene Perez’s song “Hijos del Canaveral” (“Son of the Cane Field”) as an ode to the bravery of Puerto Rico and its people.
“I need a little patriotism,” she said. “I need 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 Wednesday.
Some of the people in front of Veguilla gave up and drove away, and the longer people waited, the higher the tension.
“Move!” shouted one driver, afraid someone would try to barge in.
Some people who see the line choose to drive to a nearby highway, where fresh water flows down the mountainside through bamboo pipes that someone has installed.
English teacher Greg Reyes lined up in muddy flip flops to get water for himself, his girlfriend and their cat. He brought a large bag with all the empty containers he could find in their house, including a dozen small water bottles.
Reyes said he and his partner have been buying water since Fiona struck, but can no longer afford it.
Standing behind him was retiree William Rodriguez, surrounded by three large barrels and four-gallon containers. He had been living in Massachusetts and decided to return to Puerto Rico about six months ago.
“But I think I’m leaving again,” he said, shaking his head.
People in line complained about the slow recovery and accused the government of not helping them, as people on social media and even gyms said their doors were open to anyone who needed water or a shower.
“It’s not easy,” said retiree Juan Santos, who was holding the hand of his 5-year-old grandson. “We are suffering.”
Those in line also have no power, and many wonder if the recovery time will be as long as Hurricane Maria.
Utility officials initially said it would take days to restore power, but then appeared to backtrack on Tuesday night, saying they faced many hurdles.
“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and power generation facilities across the island. We want to make it very clear that recovery and rejuvenation efforts continue and are affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, fallen trees, aging equipment and collapsed lines,” said Luma, the company that operates transmission and distribution.
Officials said crews found several substations underwater and inaccessible.
But Luma said power is expected to be restored to much of Puerto Rico’s northern coast on Wednesday, while Fiona has largely survived.
The hum of generators could be heard across the territory as people grew increasingly angry.
“I remain hopeful that by the end of today, a significant portion of the population will have access to these services,” Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi said.
The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, where the agency announced hundreds of additional personnel to bolster the local response. On Wednesday, U.S. President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration that would allow for more federal aid.
Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico and deployed several teams to the island.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported relatively minor damage and no fatalities, although the eye of the Category 4 storm passed near the British territory’s capital island of Grand Turk on Tuesday.
“The Turks and Caicos Islands have had an extraordinary experience over the past 24 hours,” said Lieutenant Governor Anya Williams. “It certainly comes with challenges.”
Schools in Grand Turk will reopen next week, officials said.
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) late Wednesday, the hurricane center said. It is located approximately 550 miles (885 km) southwest of Bermuda and travels north at 10 mph (17 km/h).
Fiona killed a man in the French Overseas Department in Guadeloupe and two others were swept away by a raging river in Puerto Rico. Two people died in the Dominican Republic: one from a fallen tree and another from a falling utility pole.
Two more deaths were reported in Puerto Rico due to the power outage: a 70-year-old man burned to death after trying to refuel a running generator; police said a 78-year-old man inhaled his poisonous gas. dynamo.
Associated Press reporters Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez and Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.