Fiona's rainfall totals in Puerto Rico rival Hurricane Maria's downpours
With upwards of 30 inches of rainfall inundating the worst-hit places, the hurricane's destruction on the island reminded many of the terror of 2017.
Efforts to rebuild and strengthen after Hurricane Maria were sidelined after Fiona brought powerful winds and flooding to the U.S. territory.
Hurricane Fiona's landfall on the island of Puerto Rico brought immediate comparisons to the chaos triggered by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20, 2017. The storm left nearly 3,000 people dead and caused $90 billion in damages.
So far, Fiona has dumped upwards of 31 inches and more of torrential rain -- 31.22 inches in a 72-hour period -- compared to 31.34 inches of precipitation during Maria in the same timeframe, according to AccuWeather and National Weather Service (NWS) figures.
The path of destruction caused by Fiona has left Puerto Rico reeling. The storm struck the southwest coast of the island Sunday afternoon, creating a territory-wide blackout along with immense flooding and treacherous mudslides.
Drone footage showed the streets of Salinas, in southeastern Puerto Rico, inundated with floodwaters caused by rainfall from Hurricane Fiona on Sept. 19, 2022.
Rain totals across the island from Fiona steadily rose and were at hefty amounts as of Monday: 7 to 20 inches of rain doused locations across much of the island, with higher amounts in some places.
Top rainfall totals include over 31 inches in Ponce, a city on the southern coast with a population of over 100,000, over a 72-hour period, being inundated with 1.88 inches in just one hour, between 1 p.m. and 2 p.m. EDT. Although not confirmed, this total would eclipse Maria's highest rainfall report of 30.01 inches. Ponce is Puerto Rico's second most populous city.
"Although accurate data is lacking due to power and equipment outages, it appears that Hurricane Fiona has dropped a similar amount of rain on Puerto Rico to that of Hurricane Maria in 2017," said AccuWeather Meteorologist and Senior Weather Editor Jesse Ferrell.
Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi also referenced the similarities between Fiona and Maria's heavy rainfalls in a press conference on Monday.
"Puerto Rico has been seriously hit by Hurricane Fiona
," Pierluisi said. "In many areas that had never seen flooding, there has been an unprecedented accumulation of water. In fact, in many areas, it was greater than what we saw during Hurricane Maria."
About 1,000 people were stranded at their homes due to rapidly rising and rushing floodwaters, and many residents described water levels rising to 6 feet within 30 minutes of the storm's landfall, The New York Times reported.
The governor's comments were echoed by news reporter and weather anchor for TeleOnce, Manuel Crespo, who was on the scene in southwestern Puerto Rico Monday morning. Crespo told AccuWeather that rain and wind were still prevalent throughout the area on Monday and that authorities were rescuing those stranded in their homes after the weekend flooding.
People walk next to a gas station flooded and damaged by the impact of Hurricane Maria, which hit the eastern region of the island, in Humacao, Puerto Rico, Wednesday, September 20, 2017. Rainfall totals from Hurricane Fiona have been compared to the deadly storm of five years ago. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)
"Some people are comparing this to Hurricane Maria," Crespo told AccuWeather. "Some say it is worse than Hurricane Maria."
Other high rainfall marks in Puerto Rico include the cities of La Plaza (over 27 inches of rain), Coamo (over 24 inches, including 5 inches recorded in just six hours Monday morning), Bo. Beatriz (over 23 inches) and Aguas Buenas (over 21 inches).
Ferrell noted that most river gauges have not exceeded their Maria records.
"This could mean Maria's rain came quicker than Fiona, or was locally heavier, but data problems or flood mitigation changes (since) 2017 could also explain it," Ferrell said. "Of course, it's still raining. Truth is, we may never know how much rain fell with either storm because of radar, power, gauge outages."
Like Fiona, Maria completely knocked out the island's power grid and brought incredible amounts of rainfall that turned into deadly flooding.
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