Fiona strengthened into a powerful Category Three hurricane on Tuesday as it headed toward the Turks and Caicos islands after leaving two dead and triggering major flooding and blackouts in the Caribbean.
With maximum winds nearing 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour, the storm is already bringing hurricane conditions to the British overseas territory and is expected to become even stronger, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said.
"Heavy rains around the center of Fiona impacts the Turks and Caicos through this afternoon with continued life-threatening flooding," the NHC said in an advisory, adding that the storm was expected to pass near the island chain within hours.
Fiona has left two people dead so far: one man whose home was swept away in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and another in the Dominican Republic who died while cutting down a tree to protect against the storm.
Dominican Republic President Luis Abinader has declared three eastern provinces to be disaster zones: La Altagracia -- home to the popular resort of Punta Cana -- El Seibo and Hato Mayor.
Several roads were flooded or cut off by falling trees or electric poles around Punta Cana where the power was knocked out, an AFP journalist on the scene said.
Footage from local media showed residents of the east coast town of Higuey waist-deep in water, trying to salvage personal belongings.
"It came through at high speed," Vicente Lopez, in the Punta Cana beach of Bibijagua told AFP, bemoaning the destroyed businesses in the area.
The NHC said "heavy rainfall and localized life-threatening flash flooding" would continue over part of the Dominican Republic on Tuesday.
US President Joe Biden has meanwhile declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico -- where the storm hit a day earlier -- authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide assistance in the US island territory.
Governor Pedro Pierluisi said the storm had caused catastrophic damage since Sunday, with some areas facing more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rainfall.
Across Puerto Rico, Fiona caused landslides, blocked roads and toppled trees, power lines and bridges, Pierluisi said.
A man was killed as an indirect result of the power blackout -- burned to death while trying to fill his generator, according to authorities.
On Monday afternoon, Nelly Marrero made her way back to her home in Toa Baja, in the north of Puerto Rico, to clear out the mud that surged inside after she evacuated.
"Thanks to God, I have food and water," Marrero -- who lost everything when Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico five years ago -- told AFP by telephone.
Fiona knocked out power to much of Puerto Rico, an island of three million people, but electricity had been restored for some customers on Monday, the governor said.
The hurricane has also left around 800,000 people without drinking water as a result of power outages and flooded rivers, officials said.
After years of financial woes and recession, Puerto Rico in 2017 declared the largest bankruptcy ever by a local US administration.
Later that year, the double hit from two Hurricanes, Irma and Maria, added to the misery, devastating the electrical grid on the island -- which has suffered from major infrastructure problems for years.
The grid was privatized in June 2021 in an effort to resolve the problem of blackouts, but the issue has persisted, and the entire island lost power earlier this year.
© 2022 AFP