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Hurricane Fiona is moving over Puerto Rico, which has lost all of its electricity


Hurricane Fiona is moving over Puerto Rico, bringing with it sustained winds of 85 mph and the threat of more than two feet of rain in some places. This afternoon, the power grid failed, leaving the island's residents in a total blackout. Fiona is the first hurricane to hit the U.S. territory since Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico five years ago this week. NPR's Adrian Florido is in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan, and he's with us now on the line to tell us more about how things are going. Adrian, thank you so much for being there.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Michel. Thank you.

MARTIN: So tell us more about Fiona's impact on Puerto Rico so far.

FLORIDO: Well, the biggest so far is what you just mentioned, that the island is in a total blackout. All 1.5 million of the electric utilities' customers, more than 3 million people, have lost power. The governor, Pedro Pierluisi, said on Facebook that line workers will start working to restore the system once conditions are safe. Restoring power is going to take at least days and maybe much longer, depending on how much damage the storm inflicts on the grid as it moves over the island tonight.

MARTIN: Adrian, what about all that rainfall? I mean, how will the island manage?

FLORIDO: Well, Michel, that's actually the biggest concern for Puerto Rico. It's not Fiona's winds, but the rain from this very slow-moving storm. The hurricane's expected to bring up to 25 inches of rain in some places. That's more than Hurricane Maria dumped on Puerto Rico five years ago. One problem is that after a wet summer, the ground here is already saturated. So hillside embankments have started to collapse. Rivers have started overflowing. And as the wind picks up, some houses have already lost their roofs. And we aren't even expecting the real force of this hurricane until later tonight. The government is saying that catastrophic flooding is almost guaranteed in some communities.

MARTIN: So what have you seen in terms of preparations, both on the part of the government and by people themselves?

FLORIDO: Well, as I made my way around yesterday, I didn't really notice people boarding up windows. I did see them clearing storm drains and, of course, preparing for that loss of electricity that everybody knew was coming. People were filling up generators, stocking up on drinking water in case water pumps fail. In many communities, the government opened shelters for people who live in flood-prone areas. And a lot of the preparation on the government's part appears to be directed at some of the biggest mistakes that it made after Hurricane Maria in 2017.

MARTIN: What about that? What are some of the things that the government is doing differently?

FLORIDO: Well, you know, Michel, every year since Maria, the government has been promising that it would be much better prepared for the next storm. And this is the first real test of that promise. So some of what it's done ahead of Fiona is clearly because of the lessons it learned last time. It's made sure that backup generators are working in hospitals, that pumps that get drinking water up into mountain communities also have backup power. It's installed more than 1,200 generators at those pumps. It says its warehouses are stocked with food and cots and other essential supplies and that a lot of them have been distributed to towns ahead of time in case mudslides and floods make some communities inaccessible. But of course, one of the biggest promises was that the power grid would be better prepared to handle the next storm. And as we can see, it's already failed.

MARTIN: I just want to remind people that, Adrian, you've spent a lot of time in Puerto Rico in the five years since Maria. I mean, you live there for, you know, months on end. You've watched and documented a lot of the island's recovery, and it's struggled to recover. So if it's OK, I'd like to ask you, are there things that particularly worry you as the storm moves through?

FLORIDO: Well, Michel, this is a Category 1 hurricane. It's nothing like Maria, which was a Category 4 storm. But still, I'm worried that some communities, especially in more remote areas, could spend weeks or more without power. I'm worried about people who live in the areas that flood. After Maria, a lot of them were supposed to get help relocating to higher ground, but many haven't.

I met a man last week who had built a little storm shelter in his backyard, like, on these 12-foot-high stilts so that he can climb up there during a big storm because if he doesn't, he'll drown in his house. And of course, there are still the thousands of people living under roofs that were damaged by Maria and that haven't been repaired. So I'm worried about them, too.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Adrian, thanks so much for your reporting.

FLORIDO: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Adrian Florido
Adrian Florido is a national correspondent for NPR covering race and identity in America.