Hurricane Fiona left hundreds stranded across Puerto Rico after smashing roads and bridges, with authorities struggling to reach people four days after the storm smacked the US territory, causing historic flooding.
The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130mph on Thursday morning and was centered about 485 miles south-west of Bermuda, heading north-north-east at 13mph.
The hurricane was forecast to pass just west of Bermuda late on Thursday. A hurricane warning was in effect for the British territory.
Fiona was forecast to hit easternmost Canada early on Saturday, the NHC said.
In Puerto Rico, government officials were working with religious groups, non-profits and others braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt by foot to provide food, water and medicine for people in need.
Nino Correa, commissioner for Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency, estimated that at least six municipalities across the island had areas cut off by Fiona, which struck as a category 1 hurricane and was up to category 4 on Wednesday as it headed toward Bermuda.
Manuel Veguilla had not been able to leave his neighborhood in the north mountain town of Caguas since Fiona swept in on Sunday.
“We are all isolated,” he said, adding that he worries about elderly neighbors including his brother who does not have the strength for the long walk to reach the closest community.
Veguilla heard municipal officials might open a pathway on Thursday but doubted that would happen because large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the 10ft space beneath it.
Neighbors have shared food and water dropped off by non-profit groups and the son of an elderly woman was able to bring back basic supplies by foot, he said.
Veguilla said that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a category 4 storm that struck five years ago and resulted in nearly 3,000 deaths, he and others used picks and shovels to clear the debris. But Fiona was different, unleashing huge landslides.
“I cannot throw those rocks over my shoulder,” he said.
Like hundreds of thousands of other Puerto Ricans, Veguilla had no water or electricity, but said they there was a natural water source nearby.
Fiona sparked an islandwide blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s south-west region, which was still trying to recover from a series of strong earthquakes.
Some 62% of 1.47 million customers were without power four days after the storm, amid an extreme heat alert issued by the National Weather Service. Some 36% of customers, or nearly half a million, did not have water.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency sent hundreds of personnel to help local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency.
Neither local nor federal officials had provided any damage estimates from the storm, which dropped up to 30in of rain in some areas. More than 470 people and 48 pets remained in shelters.
“Our hearts go out to the people of Puerto Rico who have endured so much suffering over the last couple of years,” said Brad Kieserman, vice-president of operations and logistics at the Red Cross.
After Puerto Rico, Fiona pummeled the Dominican Republic and then swiped past the Turks and Caicos Islands as it strengthened. Officials reported relatively light damage and no deaths, though the eye of the storm passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital, on Tuesday.
“God has been good to us and has kept us safe during this period when we could have had a far worse outcome,” said the deputy governor, Anya Williams.