Hurricane Fiona intensifies to Category 4 as Puerto Rico struggles with aftermath

Hurricane Fiona intensified into a Category 4 storm overnight after ravaging the Turks and Caicos Islands, leaving major devastation in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

Meanwhile, a new tropical storm, Gaston, gained strength in the Atlantic, with maximum sustained winds increasing to nearly 80 mph with higher gusts early Wednesday.

The National Hurricane Center warned that the swell generated by Gaston could hit the Azores, an archipelago in the mid-Atlantic Ocean, later this week, causing life-threatening surf and current conditions.

By late Wednesday, Fiona was about 550 miles southwest of Bermuda and is expected to pass west of the British Isles Territory on Thursday evening, according to the Hurricane Center.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph and moved north at 10 mph, it said.

A hurricane watch and tropical storm warning are in effect for Bermuda, where 2 to 4 inches of rain could fall, the center said in an update late Wednesday.

“A storm surge is causing elevated water levels along the coast of Bermuda in areas with onshore winds from Thursday evening,” the center said. “Near the coast, the swell will be accompanied by large and destructive waves.”

Multiple deaths have been reported so far in Fiona’s wake, as Puerto Rico continues to suffer widespread devastation, including major power outages and water supply problems.

A 78-year-old man was found dead and a 70-year-old woman was apparently struck by gas emitted from a generator at a house in the Las Granjas neighborhood, a fire service on the island said in statements. A dead dog was also found at the scene, officials said. The house, officials said, had all windows closed and an awning gate closed.

As of late Tuesday, more than 1.1 million customers in the U.S. were still without power, according to online tracker That is almost a third of the population.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said at a news conference on Tuesday that he expects steady and gradual improvement in power recovery across the island.

However, he warned that more rain had increased the risk of flooding and landslides in some areas. On average, he said, the island had seen 10 to 16 inches of rain, with the worst affected areas more than 10 inches.

Pierluisi said he had signed an executive order to allow residents across the island to have access to food.

The storm’s devastating impact came as Puerto Rico marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, the deadliest natural disaster on US soil in a century, from which the island is still recovering.

It also unfolded on the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which struck Puerto Rico as a Category 3 storm 33 years ago.

As the area now grapples with the aftermath of another storm, some residents have expressed concern about response efforts.

“Puerto Rico is not prepared for this, or for anything,” Marangy Hern├índez, a 48-year-old homemaker, told The Associated Press.

She said she doubted her community of some 300 people would receive long-term support from the government, despite ongoing efforts to clean streets and restore power.

“This is just for a few days and later they forget about us,” she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency helped respond to Fiona after President Joe Biden declared a federal emergency for Puerto Rico on Sunday. The FEMA chief visited the area on Tuesday to examine the damage as the agency announced it would send hundreds more staff to supplement response efforts.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency on the island when it dispatched teams to the area.

Joe Studley, Antony Planas, Nicole Duarte and The Associated Press contributed.

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