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How Puerto Rico is faring after Hurricane Fiona brought catastrophic floods

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

All across Puerto Rico, people are starting to assess just how much destruction Hurricane Fiona has caused.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Floodwaters are starting to recede in some places, but other parts are still facing threats of flash floods, mudslides and collapsed bridges. Much of the island is also still without power, and a lot of people don't have drinking water. It could be days or longer before all that is restored.

FADEL: For more, we have NPR's Luis Trelles joining us from Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. Hi, Luis.

LUIS TRELLES, BYLINE: Hi, Leila.

FADEL: So what is the power and water situation right now, not just in San Juan, where you are, but in smaller towns that are harder to access?

TRELLES: Yeah, so the power blackouts began Sunday, right before the storm arrived, and by Monday night, power had been restored to more than 100,000 customers - this on an island of 3.2 million people. So as you can see, many people remain in the dark today. Puerto Rico's governor, Pedro Pierluisi, is telling the public that it could take days to fully restore electricity across the island. He is calling the power outages and the massive flooding and landslides that have come in the wake of Hurricane Fiona - he's labeled them as catastrophic. And just as critical is the island's supply of clean water. With no electricity, there's no power to run filtration systems and no power to pump water into homes. And that means no clean water for drinking, bathing or flushing toilets. And by Monday afternoon, more than 800,000 customers, two-thirds of the total on the island, faced cuts and disruptions to their water service.

FADEL: Now, I can't help but mention, you know, it's been five years to the day since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico. Billions of dollars were allocated by Congress to harden the island against future storms, storms like Fiona. And yet here we are seeing the island without power, so much devastation. Why?

TRELLES: I have to tell you, Leila, this is the story of a blackout, we're told. The electric grid is run by a private company called LUMA. And Puerto Ricans have been facing blackouts throughout the summer and even the summer of last year. So when the hurricane was announced and we knew that a direct hit was coming, the question was not would there be a blackout, but how long would it last? The funds that have been allocated to Puerto Rico have been slow to reach projects that need to be built. And the government has also - the local government of Puerto Rico has also been slow to deal with all the requisites put in by the federal government to access those funds.

FADEL: Right now, what's the weather like? I mean, is there still this deluge of rainfall?

TRELLES: The heaviest rainfall fell on Sunday, but still yesterday, once the - Hurricane Fiona had moved on to the Dominican Republic, tropical storm winds and levels of rain could be felt throughout the island. This is very concerning, especially in smaller towns on the southeastern tip of the island and across central mountainous region in the island. And so rivers have been overflowing. And the National Guard has reportedly rescued more than 900 people from the floodwaters. Today, it does look a bit clearer, but thunder clouds are still overhead.

FADEL: That's NPR's Luis Trelles in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thank you so much.

TRELLES: Thank you, Leila. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.