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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) – Hurricane Fiona blasted the Turks and Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a Category 3 storm after devastating Puerto Rico, where most people remained without electricity or running water and rescuers used heavy equipment to lift survivors to safety.
The storm’s eye passed close to Grand Turk, the small British territory’s capital island, on Tuesday morning after the government imposed a curfew and urged people to flee flood-prone areas. Storm surge could raise water levels there by as much as 5 to 8 feet above normal, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center.
Late Tuesday morning, the storm was centered about 40 miles north-northwest of that island, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30 miles from the center.
“Storms are unpredictable,” Premier Washington Misick said in a statement from London, where he was attending the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II. “You must therefore take every precaution to ensure your safety.”
Fiona had maximum sustained winds of 115 mph and was moving north-northwest at 9 mph, according to the Hurricane Center, which said the storm is likely to strengthen further into a Category 4 hurricane as it approaches Bermuda on Friday.
It was forecast to weaken before running into easternmost Canada over the weekend.
The broad storm kept dropping copious rain over the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, where a 58-year-old man died after police said he was swept away by a river in the central mountain town of Comerio.
Another death was linked to a power blackout—a 70-year-old man was burned to death after he tried to fill his generator with gasoline while it was running, officials said.
Parts of the island had received more than 25 inches of rain and more was falling on Tuesday.
National Guard Brigadier General Narciso Cruz described the resulting flooding as historic.
“There were communities that flooded in the storm that didn’t flood under Maria,” he said, referring to the 2017 hurricane that caused nearly 3,000 deaths. “I’ve never seen anything like this.”
Brig. Gen. Cruz said 670 people have been rescued in Puerto Rico, including 19 people at a retirement home in the northern mountain town of Cayey that was in danger of collapsing.
“The rivers broke their banks and blanketed communities,” he said.
Some people were rescued via kayaks and boats while others nestled into the massive shovel of a digger and were lifted to higher ground.
He lamented that some people initially refused to leave their homes, adding that he understood why.
“It’s human nature,” he said. “But when they saw their lives were in danger, they agreed to leave.”
The blow from Fiona was made more devastating because Puerto Rico has yet to recover from Hurricane Maria, which destroyed the power grid in 2017. Five years later, more than 3,000 homes on the island are still covered by blue tarps.
Fiona triggered a blackout when it hit Puerto Rico’s southwest corner on Sunday, the anniversary of Hurricane Hugo, which slammed into the island in 1989 as a Category 3 storm.