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Fiona becomes hurricane, path doesn't include SWFL; Puerto Rico preps for "historic" flooding

Tropical Weather
AP
/
NOAA
This satellite image provided by NOAA shows Tropical Storm Fiona in the Caribbean on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. Fiona threatened to dump up to 16 inches (41 centimeters) of rain in parts of Puerto Rico on Saturday as forecasters placed the U.S. territory under a hurricane watch and people braced for potential landslides, severe flooding and power outages. (NOAA via AP)

The National Hurricane Center reported Sunday that Fiona had developed hurricane status with Puerto Rico feeling the storm's power by later afternoon.

Florida, and the rest of the east coast of the United States, was not being directly threatened by Fiona, National Hurricane Center's data showed.

The storm was expected to begin a northwestward motion later Sunday, continue through Monday and followed by a turn toward the north-northwest on Tuesday.

Puerto Rico Tropical Weather
Stephanie Rojas/AP
/
AP
People inside a house await rescue from the floods caused by Hurricane Fiona in Cayey, Puerto Rico, Sunday, September 18, 2022. (AP Photo/Stephanie Rojas)

The Associated Press reported that Fiona struck Puerto Rico’s southwest coast on Sunday as it unleashed landslides, knocked the power grid out and ripped up asphalt from roads and flung the pieces around.

Forecasters said the storm would cause massive flooding and threatened to dump “historic” levels of rain, with up to 30 inches possible in eastern and southern Puerto Rico.

“The damages that we are seeing are catastrophic,” said Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.

“I urge people to stay in their homes,” said William Miranda Torres, mayor of the northern town of Caguas, where at least one large landslide was reported, with water rushing down a big slab of broken asphalt and into a gully.

The storm also washed away a bridge in the central mountain town of Utuado that police say was installed by the National Guard after Hurricane Maria hit in 2017.

Fiona was centered 10 miles west of Mayaguez with maximum sustained winds of 85 mph, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center. It was moving to the northwest at 9 mph.

Anxiety ran high across the island with Fiona due just two days before the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 4 storm that hit on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying the island’s power grid and causing nearly 3,000 deaths.

Fiona was forecast to move near the northern coast of the Dominican Republic Sunday night and Monday, and near or to the east of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday.

The extended track showed Fiona moving away from Florida and the rest of the U.S. coastline while developing into a major hurricane by Wednesday.

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Fiona’s maximum sustained winds increased to near 80 miles per hour with higher gusts. Additional strengthening was forecast.

Tropical-storm-force winds extended outward up to 140 miles and hurricane-force winds up to 30 miles from the center.

A weather station at Las Mareas, Puerto Rico, reported sustained winds of 62 miles per hour with a gust to 75 miles per.

The minimum central pressure estimated from Hurricane Hunter aircraft observations was reported at 987 mb (29.15 inches).

A Hurricane Watch for the U.S. Virgin Islands was discontinued.

SUMMARY OF WATCHES AND WARNINGS IN EFFECT:

A Hurricane Warning is in effect for:

  • Puerto Rico, including Vieques and Culebra
  • The coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Caucedo to Cabo Frances Viejo

A Hurricane Watch is in effect for...

  • North coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Frances Viejo westward to Puerto Plata

A Tropical Storm Warning is in effect for...

  • U.S. Virgin Islands
  • British Virgin Islands
  • North coast of the Dominican Republic from Cabo Frances Viejo westward to Puerto Plata

A Tropical Storm Watch is in effect for...

  • South coast of the Dominican Republic west of Cabo Caucedo to Barahona
  • Turks and Caicos Islands
  • Southeastern Bahamas, including the Acklins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, the Inaguas, Mayaguana, and the Ragged Islands

A Hurricane Warning means that hurricane conditions are expected.

WGCU is your trusted source for news and information in Southwest Florida. We are a nonprofit public service, and your support is more critical than ever. Keep public media strong and donate now. Thank you. The Associated Press contributed to this report.