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Hurricane Fiona hits Turks and Caicos as a Category 3 storm, heading for Bermuda

Hurricane Fiona hits Turks and Caicos as a Category 3 storm, heading for Bermuda
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico, September 20 (Reuters) – Hurricane Fiona slammed into the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a powerful Category 3 storm, bringing heavy rains and triggering flooding across the Caribbean archipelago after cutting a swath of the Destruction had struck by the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

US officials said the storm claimed four lives in Puerto Rico. A fifth person was killed in Guadeloupe earlier this week.

U.S. Secretary of Health Xavier Becerra declared a public health emergency for Puerto Rico Tuesday night, freeing federal funds and equipment to support the island.

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The storm hit Grand Turk, the largest island in the Turks and Caicos, on Tuesday morning before hitting its main island group a few hours later.

With winds reaching 125 mph, Fiona strengthened north toward Bermuda Tuesday night and was expected to hit Thursday as a Category 4 storm, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.

Canadian officials warned of severe post-tropical conditions that would hit Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, New Brunswick and Price Edward Island through Saturday.

Turks and Caicos Islands Deputy Governor Anya Williams said power outages had hit five islands but no deaths had yet been reported.

“Closing the country early has helped us save lives,” Williams told Reuters. She said her government is communicating with Britain’s Royal Navy and the US Coastguard, with the British Navy patrol vessel HMS Medway expected to arrive Tuesday night to help with the rescue effort.

Jaquan Harvey, 37, a businessman who lives on Grand Turk, said wind drove rainwater through the seams of windows and doors as his house shook.

“It was very loud, like giants were screaming and roaring outside,” Harvey said. “You could feel the pressure of the air as everything rattled.”

To the south, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico were stunned by the storm’s intensity and struggled to deal with the aftermath.

Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) chief Deanne Criswell arrived in Puerto Rico — a U.S. territory — on Tuesday to assess the damage, agency officials said.

Officials said several FEMA teams, including two search and rescue units, are deployed and several hundred FEMA personnel are already on the island.

PAINFUL ANNIVERSARY

Hurricane Fiona was a painful reminder of Puerto Rico’s vulnerability. Tuesday marked the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm that killed about 3,000 people and destroyed its power grid.

Thousands of Puerto Ricans still live under canvas roofs.

Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico Sunday afternoon, dropping up to 30 inches of rain in some areas and triggering catastrophic flooding.

Almost 80% of Puerto Rico remained without power as of Tuesday, according to Poweroutage.us. Officials said it would take days to reconnect the entire island of 3.3 million people.

“There’s been a lot of fallen trees, there’s fallen poles and here in the house we’ve gotten water where it’s never happened before,” said Asbertly Vargas, a 40-year-old mechanic in Yauco, a town on the south coast of the island.

Puerto Rico’s utility, LUMA Energy, said it had restored power to 100,000 customers, but it would take days to complete the full restoration.

In the Turks and Caicos Islands, a British Overseas Territory of about 40,000 people about 700 miles (1,125 km) southeast of Florida, the government urged residents to seek shelter until further notice and ordered businesses to close.

Foreign governments issued travel warnings for the islands, a popular tourist destination.

Similar preparations were underway in the eastern Bahamas, where the storm could pass on Wednesday.

It could develop into a Category 4 storm in the coming days and hit Canada’s Atlantic coast by late Friday, the NHC said.

Hurricanes are classified as “major” by the NHC once they reach Category 3 status, which corresponds to wind speeds between 111 and 129 mph (178 km/h to 208 km/h). A Category 4 storm has “catastrophic” wind speeds between 130mph and 156mph. The strongest category 5 hurricane has wind speeds of over 250 km/h.

In the Dominican Republic, severe flooding has restricted road access to villages, displaced 12,500 people from their homes and provided electricity to hundreds of thousands of people.

Fiona was the first hurricane to hit the Dominican Republic directly since Jeanne caused severe damage in the east of the country in 2004.

As of Monday evening, the country’s emergency center counted more than 1.1 million people without drinking water and more than 700,000 without electricity.

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reporting from Ivelisse Rivera, Ezequiel Abiu Lopez and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Additional reporting by Tim Reid and Brad Brooks; writing by Tyler Clifford; Edited by Richard Chang and Stephen Coates

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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