Hurricane Fiona leaves Puerto Rico with electricity and water crises
Critics claim that the total darkness demonstrates that officials have not learned from the 2017 hurricanes as floods and rain cause havoc.
The majority of Puerto Rico was still without electricity or access to clean water on Monday, and the remnants of a category 1 hurricane that had hit the island the day before were expected to deliver more intense rain and potentially fatal flooding.
Major roads are submerged, and there are reports of multiple destroyed bridges on the Caribbean island, where hundreds of people are stuck in emergency shelters. While flash floods, landslides, and fallen trees blocked highways, carried away vehicles, and severely damaged infrastructure, crops were washed away.
After Hurricane Fiona triggered a complete blackout on Sunday and swollen rivers damaged the filtration system, nearly two-thirds of the island's nearly 800,000 households and businesses are without water. By early Monday, the storm had wreaked damage in the Dominican Republic.
Just after 1 pm on Sunday, all of Puerto Rico's lights went out, leaving only those homes and businesses with rooftop solar panels or functional generators with electricity. The island's primary cancer hospital in the capital San Juan had to relocate critically ill patients after the backup generator failed due to voltage fluctuations, a problem that has caused several blackouts over the previous year.
The storm is thought to be responsible for at least three fatalities. Authorities announced the deaths of two people due to the hurricane on Monday: a guy from Puerto Rico who was washed away by a flood and a person in the Dominican Republic who was struck by a falling tree. The blackout was also responsible for the death of a 70-year-old man who was killed when a gas generator detonated in the little city of Arecibo on the north coast.
Only 10% of electricity has been restored as anger broke out towards Luma, the private US-Canadian consortium that took over transmission and distribution in June 2021.
“Today we woke up full of pain, suffering and destruction of our homes, a product of the merciless abuse of our Mother Earth,” said Nelson Santos Torres, from Salinas. “Our communities are covered in water and mud. Those responsible for these evils are the merchants of death and the parasitic elite.”
Up to 3,000 people died in the aftermath as homes, businesses and healthcare facilities were left without power for months.
Despite the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema) having allocated an extraordinary $16 billion to rebuild the island's electricity system and for hazard prevention, the electrical system was still in disorder as Fiona came ashore.
“Rooftop solar would provide lifesaving resilience,” said the environmental lawyer and campaigner Ruth Santiago of Queremos Sol, a grassroots movement to move the island away from a centralized energy grid to rooftop solar.
Storms get more intense more quickly as a result of higher atmospheric and ocean temperatures, making it harder for communities to prepare and adapt.
A large portion of the current energy infrastructure, including plants, transmitter towers, poles, and cables, is located in flood-prone areas or is vulnerable to damage from severe winds, earthquakes, sea level rise, and storm surges.