COCKBURN TOWN – Fiona bore down on the Turks & Caicos Islands on Tuesday as a powerful Category 3 hurricane, slamming the Caribbean archipelago with heavy rains and life-threatening flooding after cutting a path of destruction through the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.
United States officials said on Tuesday the storm had claimed four lives in Puerto Rico. A fifth person was killed in Guadeloupe earlier in the week.
On Tuesday morning, the storm slammed Grand Turk, the TCI’s biggest island, and was moving closer to the main cluster of islands by afternoon, the U.S. National Hurricane Centre said.
In a telephone interview with Reuters, TCI deputy governor Anya Williams said power outages had hit five islands, but no deaths had yet been reported.
“Shutting the country down early is what helped us save lives,” Williams said.
She said her government was communicating with the British Royal Navy and U.S. Coast Guard, with the British Navy patrol vessel HMS Medway expected to arrive late on Tuesday to help with rescue efforts.
The government National Emergency Operations Centre (NEOC) of the British Overseas Territory, which comprises 40 low-lying coral islands and a population of about 40 000, told residents of three eastern islands to shelter in place, and ordered businesses to close.
TCI Premier Washington Misick, who attended the funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, issued a statement from London warning residents to prepare for the storm.
Foreign governments issued travel alerts for the islands, a popular tourist destination.
Similar preparations were under way in the eastern Bahamas, which the storm could skirt on Wednesday, when it was forecast to turn in a north-westerly track towards Bermuda.
Hurricanes are deemed “major” by the National Hurricane Centre located in the American city of Miami, once they reach Category 3 status with wind speeds of between 111 mph and 129 mph (178 kph to 208 kph).