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Hurricane Fiona hits Puerto Rico causing an assortment of problems

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We go now to Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Fiona has dumped up to 16 inches of rain in some areas. Power is out across the island. And the governor describes catastrophic damage in some communities from wind and flooding. The eye of the storm made its way offshore, but the rain will continue through tonight, and the impact is expected to linger for many days. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. Hi, Adrian.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So, Adrian, the brunt of the storm's power was felt yesterday evening and overnight. Tell us about some of what Fiona did.

FLORIDO: Well, the extent of the damage is still not clear, in part because, like you said, this storm is still dumping rain on the island, meaning that a real assessment of the destruction hasn't really started. But it's clear from government reports and also from videos and photos that people have been posting online that in a lot of communities across the island, especially in rural areas, there has been massive flooding that has destroyed homes and other infrastructure. Listen to this.

(SOUNDBITE OF METAL CLANGING)

FLORIDO: That is the sound of a metal bridge that was being torn apart and washed away by an overflowing raging river in the town of Utuado in Puerto Rico's central mountains. And that bridge is reportedly only a couple of years old, built as part of the reconstruction from Hurricane Maria, which hit five years ago.

FADEL: But wasn't the reconstruction from Hurricane Maria supposed to build infrastructure that would withstand storms like this?

FLORIDO: Absolutely, and that is a big question that is emerging here in Puerto Rico and that, I think, is going to be really scrutinized as we start to get an even clearer sense of the damage from Fiona this weekend. Local and federal officials have been touting for years all that they've been doing to harden Puerto Rico's infrastructure since Hurricane Maria, and what we're seeing here is just how fragile that infrastructure still is. Fiona was a much smaller storm and much less powerful than Maria was, and still, it caused a total blackout, and the power is still off in the vast majority of the island. Billions of dollars have been allocated to strengthen the island by the U.S. Congress, but it's been really slow going. And Fiona is going to set the island's reconstruction back even more.

FADEL: So let's talk about the power grid - as we said, a total blackout yesterday. What are officials saying about how long it will take to restore the electricity?

FLORIDO: They aren't giving any firm estimates. They did promise in a press conference yesterday evening that they are working to restore power to as many people as quickly as possible, but they're prioritizing critical sites like hospitals, which have been running on generator power. Yesterday, Governor Pedro Pierluisi said that he was hopeful of one thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PEDRO PIERLUISI: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: He said that this was not going to be like Hurricane Maria, which - you know, it took the government a year in some cases, in some communities, to restore power. He said he hopes that most of the power grid will be restored within several days, maybe weeks. But again, he didn't make any promises because a lot would depend on how much more damage the grid suffers as the storm exits the island.

FADEL: NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thank you, Adrian.

FLORIDO: Thanks, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.