Puerto Ricans remain without water service three days after Hurricane Fiona barreled into the US territory, dumping roughly two feet of rain and playing havoc with Puerto Rico's electrical grid.
More than a half million people in Puerto Rico remain without water service three days after Hurricane Fiona slammed into the US territory, and many have spent hours in lines to fill jugs from water trucks while others scooped water from mountain runoff.
Sweat rolled down the faces of people in a long line of cars in the northern mountain town of Caguas, where the government on Wednesday had sent a water truck, one of at least 18 so-called "oases" set up across the island.
The situation was maddening for many people across an island once again left without basic services following a storm.
"We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but this was worse," Gerardo Rodriguez said in the southern coastal town of Salinas, referring to the 2017 hurricane that caused nearly 3,000 deaths and demolished the island's power grid.
Fiona dumped roughly two feet of rain on parts of Puerto Rico before blasting across the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Swelled to Category 4 force, the storm was on a track to pass close by Bermuda late Thursday or early Friday and then hit easternmost Canada by late Friday, according to the US National Hurricane Center.
The storm played havoc with Puerto Rico's electrical grid, which had been patched but never fully rebuilt after Maria caused a blackout that lasted 11 months in some places.
70% without electricity
As of Wednesday afternoon, roughly 70 percent of Puerto Rican customers lacked electricity, according to government figures.
Power company officials initially said it would take a few days for electricity to be restored, but then appeared to backtrack Tuesday night, saying they faced numerous obstacles.
"We want to make it very clear that efforts to restore and re-energise continue and are being affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, downed trees, deteriorating equipment, and downed lines," said Luma, the company that operates power transmission and distribution.
Officials said crews found several substations underwater and inaccessible.
But Luma said it expected to restore power Wednesday to much of Puerto Rico’s north coast, which Fiona largely spared.
The hum of generators could be heard across the territory as people became increasingly exasperated.
"I continue to hope that by the end of today, a large part of the population will have these services," said Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi.
On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration, which would allow for more federal assistance.
Public health emergency
Meanwhile, the US Department of Health and Human Services declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and deployed a couple of teams to the island.
In the Turks and Caicos Islands, officials reported relatively light damage and no deaths, though the eye of the Category 4 storm passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory's capital island, on Tuesday.
The Hurricane Center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 215 kph late Wednesday afternoon.
It was centered about 990 kilometres southwest of Bermuda, heading north at 15 kph.
Fiona killed a man in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and two others in Puerto Rico swept away by swollen rivers. Two died in the Dominican Republic: one killed by a falling tree and the other by a falling electric post.
Two additional deaths were reported in Puerto Rico as a result of the blackout: A 70-year-old man burned to death after he tried to fill his running generator with gasoline and a 78-year-old man police say inhaled toxic gases from his generator.