By DÁNICA COTO
CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (AP) — Bermuda and Canada’s Atlantic provinces were preparing for a blast from Hurricane Fiona even as authorities struggled Thursday to open roads for people left stranded and without power by the storm’s devastating blow to Puerto Rico.
The storm was expected to still be at Category 4 force when it passes close to Bermuda overnight — and still dangerously potent when it reaches Canada’s Atlantic provinces, likely late Friday, as an extratropical cyclone.
“It’s going to be a very large storm when it does make landfall,” said Bob Robichaud, warning preparedness meteorologist for the Canadian Hurricane Centre. “This is going to cover a fairly large area.”
Canadian officials said they were preparing for the possibility of flooding, washouts, storm surges and power outages.
Meanwhile officials in Puerto Rico were working with religious groups, nonprofits and others on foot braving landslides, thick mud and broken asphalt to bring food, water and medicine to people in need. They were under pressure to clear a path so vehicles can enter isolated areas soon.
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.
Manuel Veguilla said he had been unable 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 older brother who does not have the strength for the long walk needed to reach the closest community.
Veguilla heard that municipal officials might open a pathway Thursday, but he doubted that would happen because large rocks covered a nearby bridge and the 10-foot space beneath it.
Neighbors have shared food and water dropped off by nonprofit groups, and the son of an elderly woman was able to bring back supplies by foot Wednesday, 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 after Fiona, Veguilla had no water or electricity service, but said there is a natural water source nearby.
Fiona sparked an islandwide blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest region and some 62% of 1.47 million customers remained without power Thursday, four days after the storm, amid an extreme heat alert issued by the National Weather Service. A third of customers, or more than 400,000, did not yet have water service.
The executive director of Puerto Rico’s Electric Energy Authority, Josué Colón, told a news conference that areas less affected by Fiona should have power by Friday morning. But officials declined to say when power would be restored to the hardest-hit areas.
“We are working by steps. Our next step is now to focus on the critical load” — service to hospitals and other key infrastructure — said Daniel Hernández, the director of renewable energy for LUMA Energy, which distributes power in Puerto Rico.
The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency has sent hundreds of additional personnel to help local officials as the federal government approved a major disaster declaration and announced a public health emergency on the island.
Neither local nor federal government officials had provided an overall estimate of damage from the storm, which dropped up to 30 inches of rain in some areas.
The U.S. center said Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 130 mph (215 kph) on Thursday morning. It was centered about 410 miles (660 kilometers) southwest of Bermuda, heading north-northeast at 15 mph (24 kph).
Bermuda Premier David Burt sent a tweet urging residents to “take care of yourself and your family. Let’s all remember to check on as well as look out for your seniors, family and neighbors. Stay safe.”
The Canadian Hurricane Centre issued a hurricane watch for Nova Scotia from Hubbards to Brule, Prince Edward Island, Isle-de-la-Madeleine and the coast of Newfoundland from Parson’s Pond to Port-Aux-Basques.
Jason Mew, a director with Nova Scotia’s Emergency Management Office, encouraged residents to fill-up on fuel, trim any weak tree limbs and check on their neighbors.
Hurricanes in Canada are somewhat rare, in part because once the storms reach colder Canadian waters, they lose their main source of energy.
The storm so far has been blamed for at least five deaths — two in Puerto Rico, two in the Dominican Republic and one in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe.
Fiona also hit the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday, but officials there reported relatively light damage and no deaths.
Associated Press writers Rob Gillies in Toronto and Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez in San Juan, Puerto Rico, contributed.
Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.