Clean-up on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Fiona is slow and uneven. The hurricane dumped more than 2 feet of rain in some areas of the island. The rain and flooding have left a soggy mess across many homes and weary residents are starting to clean up.

Cleanup on Puerto Rico is slow and difficult after Hurricane Fiona

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Puerto Rico is assessing the damage and beginning its recovery from the floodwaters that engulfed many communities in the wake of Hurricane Fiona.


After an islandwide power outage, electricity has come back for some communities. The power company says a large part of Puerto Rico should have its electricity back today, but many communities do not have clean water. The U.S. Health and Human Services secretary has declared a public health emergency for the island.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Greg Allen is in Puerto Rico. Greg, it sounds like the damage done by Hurricane Fiona was mostly associated with flooding. What issues are people dealing with there?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, Fiona was a Category 1 hurricane with winds up to 85 mph. So those high winds downed trees and power lines and is responsible for much of the electricity outage. But restoring those downed power lines is a lot easier than replacing the poles and the towers that went down when Hurricane Maria was hit by those 155 mph winds. So Fiona's damage came mostly from rain - over 30 inches in some places. That led to swollen rivers. It washed out bridges, caused mudslides in the mountainous interior. And thousands of homes have flooded in a number of communities, many in places that were hit hard five years ago in Hurricane Maria.

MARTINEZ: Now, you visited one of those communities yesterday - Toa Baja. What was it like there?

ALLEN: Well, in Toa Baja, the cleanup is well underway. This is an area that flooded badly in Hurricane Maria and saw flooding again this week from Fiona. And the floodwaters have receded in most neighborhoods, and you see a layer of mud everywhere. Yesterday, when I was there, people were dragging waterlogged sofas, mattresses and other goods out to the street. City workers were using heavy equipment and dump trucks to collect it. Yesenia Nazario, a social worker with the city, says the first floor of every house here was flooded.

YESENIA NAZARIO: (Speaking Spanish).

ALLEN: She pointed down the street and said, the La Plata River is right behind the Catholic Church. As soon as the river rises, it always floods here.

MARTINEZ: And as you say, this area flooded before. Were people expecting they would be flooded again when Fiona started to hit?

ALLEN: Well, you know, that - this is a low-lying area, right next to a major river with a history of flooding. But one resident, Elaine Santiago, said she and her family didn't expect this from a less powerful storm.

ELAINE SANTIAGO: Honestly, no, because Fiona wasn't, like, the same as Maria. This was, like, a hurricane 1. So we didn't thought it was, like, going to flood this much. So it was really unexpected.

ALLEN: Some said they only left their homes after official word came down that the nearby river was likely to flood.

MARTINEZ: So what's this mean for people that are cleaning up after the second major flood in five years there?

ALLEN: Well, one of the neighborhoods in Toa Baja called Toaville - there were several inches of floodwater still in the streets yesterday. It's not clear when it's going to go out. Power and running water is still out here, like it is most places in Toa Baja. And some residents are discouraged, unsure when it will come back 'cause it's hard to clean when there's no running water. I talked to Gilbert Hernandez, a Navy veteran, who says he struggled for months with his insurance company to recover money to fix up his house after Hurricane Maria. He says he doesn't want to go through that again, and he's planning to move and let the mortgage company take his home.

GILBERT HERNANDEZ: Who wants to live here now?

ALLEN: Right. Would you think about selling out?

HERNANDEZ: Selling out? Who wants to buy here?

ALLEN: Right.

HERNANDEZ: Am I going to take a hit on my credit? I ain't going to come back.

ALLEN: Hernandez was very discouraged. He said yesterday that other neighbors are also considering it in Toaville. And his next-door neighbor, he says, has already left.

MARTINEZ: NPR's Greg Allen reporting from San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks a lot, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome.


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