(SAN JUAN) — The entire island of Puerto Rico lost power just before Hurricane Fiona made landfall on Sunday afternoon, according to officials.
More than 1.5 million customers are without electricity as the Category 1 storm, with sustained winds at 85 mph and torrential rain bear down on the island, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi announced on Facebook Sunday afternoon.
Fiona strengthened to a hurricane from a tropical storm Sunday morning. Emergency response teams for the utility companies will deploy once the conditions allow, Pierluisi said.
The National Hurricane Center said Fiona made landfall in southwestern Puerto Rico at 3:20 p.m. ET. Widespread torrential rain has been hitting much of the island and is expected to continue for several hours. Flash flood effects are in place across the eastern half of the island.
Pierluisi believes Puerto Rico is prepared as it can be, with enough resources and manpower in place to respond, he told ABC News earlier in the day — adding that the island learned its lessons from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria in September 2017.
“We’re much in a much better position than we were five years ago,” he said.
Hurricane warnings will remain in place for Puerto Rico and the easternmost points of the Dominican Republic throughout Sunday. Tremendous rainfall is forecast, with much of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic expected to receive up to 10 inches. Some localized regions in Puerto Rico could get up to 20 inches.
While still a tropical storm, the system battered the Caribbean islands. One person died in the French territory of Guadeloupe, according to The Associated Press. More than 20 others were rescued amid heavy wind and rain according to the AP.
The island’s emergency management office in Puerto Rico even had a blackout during its Saturday morning press conference. Pierluisi reiterated during that press briefing Saturday evening that the fear is that heavy rains will produce mudslides.
After passing through the Caribbean, the storm system will head northward, passing just east of Turks and Caicos before tracking near Bermuda, forecasts show.
President Joe Biden approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico on Sunday, which allows federal agencies to coordinate all relief efforts.
Biden’s decision has the “purpose of alleviating the hardship and suffering caused by the emergency on the local population, and to provide appropriate assistance for required emergency measures, authorized under Title V of the Stafford Act, to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, and to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in all 78 municipalities in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico,” the White House said in a statement.
At least 101 people are in 79 shelters across Puerto Rico, with the expectation that the figure will go up, officials said.
The storm continues to move west-northwest at about 9 mph, with sustained winds of 60 mph as of Saturday evening.
Fiona’s center moved through the island of Guadeloupe on Friday night, bringing heavy rain and gusty winds across the Leeward Islands.
Sustained winds of 45 to 60 mph are expected for parts of southwest Puerto Rico and St. Croix Sunday night with gusts as high as 85 mph.
Rain and gusty winds will continue for Puerto Rico through Monday morning before conditions taper off in the afternoon, officials said.
The worst conditions in the Dominican Republic are expected late Sunday morning.
The rain has already saturated areas in the southeastern part of Puerto Rico, along with the mountainous areas, where potential mudslides and winds could cause the most damage.
“We shouldn’t underestimate this storm,” Pierluisi said in a briefing Saturday.
Resident Magda Diaz told ABC News outside a San Juan Walmart that she expects to be without power. Diaz said she loses power regularly, especially during smaller storms, and was recently in the dark for three days.
A LUMA Energy official told ABC News on Saturday that the company has been fixing the grid and is ready to get the grid back online if the system fails. LUMA Energy is in charge of the transmission and distribution of electricity on the island.
“We were expecting power outages from Fiona … and we’re bringing in 100 more workers from our parent companies that will be landing Sunday,” LUMA official Don Cortez said.
LUMA Energy’s Crisis Management Manager Abner Gomez told reporters the energy distributor is working to prevent a repeat of Hurricane Maria’s aftermath.
“We are going to make sure [a widespread outage] will not happen because we have the crews,” he said. “There will be damage. There will be outages and we will be ready to respond.”
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