By Ray Sanchez, CNN
Less than two weeks after Hurricane Fiona barreled through Puerto Rico, the island’s health department says at least 25 deaths may be linked to the storm.
Fiona hit the US territory as a Category 1 storm on September 18, dropping record rainfall, unleashing mudslides, flooding neighborhoods and leaving most of the island without power or water. It made landfall almost exactly five years after Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, delivered a blow from which the island has never fully recovered.
On Friday — as Floridians assessed the destruction left by Hurricane Ian and the storm made landfall in South Carolina as a Category 1 — more than 230,000 customers in Puerto Rico were still without electricity, according to the PowerOutage.US website. More than 800,000 customers were without power last weekend.
Nearly 80,000 customers — about 6% — of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority were without water on Friday, according to the government’s emergency portal system website.
Puerto Rico’s Health Department said Friday that up to 11 deaths were confirmed as attributable to the storm. At least 14 other cases were still being investigated. One of the confirmed deaths came as a direct result of Fiona, and 10 others were indirectly related.
The deaths involved 18 people over 65 years of age, according to the department website.
The fatalities included a 58-year-old man who was swept away by La Plata River behind his home in Comerío, and a 70-year-old man who died in a fire after attempting to fill his generator with gasoline in Arecibo, according to officials.
Fiona was the first hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since September 20, 2017, when Maria left thousands dead and triggered a blackout that lasted months for many of the island’s more than 3 million residents.
Puerto Rico’s government, after initially saying only 64 people died as a result of Maria, later placed the death toll at nearly 3,000 — making it one of the deadliest hurricanes in US history.
President Joe Biden, speaking at FEMA headquarters Thursday, said his administration has not forgotten the victims of Fiona in Puerto Rico.
“While we’re seeing the devastating images in Florida, I want to be clear, to the people of Puerto Rico: We’re not gone away,” said Biden, who added that he intends to visit Florida and Puerto Rico.
Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas on Wednesday approved a federal waiver opening up the potential for additional diesel to be shipped to Puerto Rico.
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