CNE Review – Hurricane Fiona Briefing

Published on September 20, 2022 / Leer en español

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Hurricane Fiona Update

By Sergio M. Marxuach, Policy Director

Hurricane Fiona struck Puerto Rico on Sunday, September 18th, almost five years to the day of Hurricane Maria. Thankfully, Fiona’s sustained winds were substantially lower than Maria’s. However, certain areas have reported higher rainfall totals than five years ago and there has been widespread flooding across the island.

The number one priority right now is to preserve human life, evacuate all those living in flooded zones, and provide food, water, and any necessary medical treatment to people living in isolated communities.

In terms of damages, we are still in the early stages of the damage assessment process. However, press reports and government data allow us to make some preliminary estimates.

  • Consumer Goods – There have been no reports of fuel, food, or other shortages of basic consumer goods.
  • Hospitals – Patients at the Comprehensive Cancer Center had to be evacuated due to the lack of electric power. However, according to the Puerto Rico Health Department, all other treatment facilities are working normally with backup generation.
  • Schools and Universities – These are currently closed across the island.
  • Shelters – Currently, the government has opened 113 shelters and approximately 1,301 people have sought temporary refuge there.
  • Telecommunications – In general, the telecommunication system has performed substantially better this time around. Approximately 76% of all cell phone users have service and there have been no reports of major internet or broadband interruptions.
  • The Electric System – Was badly damaged. There was an island-wide blackout at 1:00 pm on Sunday, which left 100% of the island without electric power. The most recent generation data reported by the government is that current generation is at 464 megawatts or approximately 18% of the normal amount. Both the government and LUMA have ceased offering estimates of the number of clients without power.
  • Transportation – Maritime ports are closed. Bus and train service has been suspended. Operations have resumed at the Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport. The list of flooded or damaged roads and bridges is long. At least two bridges are reported to have collapsed.
  • Water – As of the time of this update, 60% of the clients of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority were without water service. This is partly due to the lack of electric power, as electric water pumps are needed to transport water to the higher areas of the island.

The next steps are to continue search and rescue operations in flooded or isolated areas; prepare a preliminary damage assessment; request a presidential disaster declaration; and work with FEMA and other agencies to begin the delivery of individual assistance to people affected by the hurricane.

In sum, the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona was devastating to some areas of Puerto Rico. The island has suffered a significant hit, with some areas reporting rainfall well north of 10 inches. Perhaps the most lasting consequences of Fiona will be its effects on the still ongoing long-term recovery and reconstruction operations related to the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which at this time are difficult to assess.

We will keep you posted as events develop.

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