The center said in an update at 5 p.m. that the hurricane is already causing catastrophic flooding as it moves west of Puerto Rico and heads toward the Dominican Republic.
The hurricane center expects 12 to 18 inches of rain with a local maximum of 30 inches, especially across eastern and southern Puerto Rico. Near the northern and eastern parts of the Dominican Republic, 4 to 8 inches of precipitation is expected, with a local maximum of 12 inches along the northeast coast.
“These rains will lead to catastrophic and life-threatening flooding across Puerto Rico and eastern Dominican Republic, along with mudslides and landslides in areas of higher terrain,” the hurricane center said.
A flash flood emergency was issued for the San Felipe and Mosquito sectors in Salinas County Sunday night as torrential rain fell in the area, with 10 to 15 inches of rain already falling, and possibly another 2-4 inches, according to the National Weather Service.
Heavy rainfall in Salinas County has already led to several quick water rescues, and the weather service is urging people to “move to higher ground now. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing a flood-prone area or on an evacuation order.”
Many rivers on the eastern side of the territory are in medium to large flood phase. One river in the Southeast rose more than 12 feet in less than seven hours and is now more than 25 feet, breaking the previous record of 24.79 feet set in 2017 during Hurricane Maria.
Tropical storm conditions are expected to reach parts of the Dominican Republic within the next few hours and then into the Turks and Caicos Islands and parts of the southeastern Bahamas early Tuesday.
The Bahamas government has issued a tropical storm warning for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas, including Acclins, Crooked Island, Long Cay, Inagos, Mayaguana and the Ragged Islands.
Puerto Rico without power as the hurricane hit the islands
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi, in a tweet, confirmed outages across the territory, noting that the entire electrical system is out of service and that officials have activated appropriate protocols to work on restoring power.
Electric Power and LUMA Energy, which operates Puerto Rico’s power grid, continue to operate outages across the island affecting nearly 1.5 million customers, according to Pierluisi.
The blackout – which followed hours of gradual blackouts – comes five years after Puerto Rico’s power grid was destroyed by Hurricane Maria in September 2017, leaving many residents without power for months.
But officials stressed it wouldn’t be like the last time: Shortly before the lights went out, Abner Gomez, head of public safety and crisis management at LUMA Energy, said utility authorities plan to repair and restore electricity with the help of local government agencies. “This is not Maria, this Hurricane will not be Maria,” Gomez said.
President Joe Biden on Sunday morning approved Puerto Rico’s emergency declaration, freeing up federal resources, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency, for emergency response and disaster relief efforts.
There are more than 300 FEMA responders on the ground working “hand and glove” with the Commonwealth and its emergency management structure, Ann Pink, FEMA’s assistant director for response and recovery told CNN on Sunday.
“Our hearts go out to residents once again going through another catastrophic event five years later,” Pink said, noting that Fiona struck near the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria.
Pink said FEMA’s response is two-focused, including emergency generation and energy missions for critical facilities and ensuring a command and control structure is in place for things like search and rescue, emergency power generation and long-term needs once the island transitions to recovery.
Fiona winds are expected to increase along the immediate coast, while conditions are expected to deteriorate throughout Sunday afternoon and evening, according to the San Juan National Weather Service office.
About 120 shelters with 25,000 beds have been opened for those in need, the governor said. Monday’s lessons have been canceled and government employees – with the exception of emergency workers – must also stay home.
A hurricane warning—indicating a hurricane is expected—was issued for Puerto Rico, including the islands of Vieques and Culebra, and later expanded to the eastern Dominican Republic from Cabo Cocedo to Cabo Francis Viejo. The northern coast of the Dominican Republic, from Cabo Francis Viejo west to Puerto Plata, was under hurricane watch Sunday morning, meaning hurricane conditions are possible for the next 48 hours.
CNN meteorologist Derek Van Dam contributed to this report.