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Some Puerto Rican communities were stranded after Hurricane Fiona's flooding


In Puerto Rico, hundreds of thousands of people are still waiting for water and power to be restored following Hurricane Fiona. Fiona was just a Category 1 hurricane, but it dropped more than 30 inches of rain on some areas. Flooding washed out roads, isolating some mountain communities. NPR's Greg Allen spent today in one those communities, the town of Orocovis. This is where a mudslide blocked a major roadway, making it difficult for people to get food and water and other necessities.

Greg Allen, welcome. And tell me, just what is the situation like for people there right now?

GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Well, you know, Mary Louise, this is a town that's very high in Puerto Rico's central mountains. In the best of times, it takes 1 to 2 hours on twisty mountain roads to get here - a lot longer to get there today. Fiona, as you noted, was a lot less powerful than Maria - Hurricane Maria five years ago. But because of all the rain, the damage to the roads, people say, was even worse than in Maria.

By today in Orocovis, local crews had removed tons of earth, boulder and debris. We watched a pile driver break up a huge boulder that was 15 feet tall at one point. Now it's still blocking part of the road. They're trying to get rid of that. They began letting trucks through, which is - are containing food, water and fuel. So some help is getting into the city. But they say it'll be some days until the road is reopened fully. And workers are concerned that more rain could bring more mudslides, which could close the road again.

KELLY: Sounds like the list of things people there need is long, long, long but that water might be top of the list. What else?

ALLEN: Yeah. Yes, I think water is at the top of the list if you talk to people. Power is another issue. You know, it's still - all those - both those things are still out for everyone in Orocovis. In some ways, you know, water's the bigger concern because it's just vital to get cleaning done to - you know, for day-to-day living. And I think people were used to being without power, you know, during the - after Maria, when it was out for six months or more.

We were at a local sports park today where people were lining up to fill jugs, barrels and cisterns with clean water. Officials say the water treatment plant was flooded, and pumps were damaged. And it's just not clear at this point when water service will be restored. The island's water authority says that some two-thirds of its customers do have water service now. But in isolated areas like Orocovis, residents don't expect it's going to come back very soon.

As for power, people are skeptical by reassurances that they've been hearing from the governor that power is being restored quickly because they all remember Maria and how long power was out at that point...

KELLY: Yeah.

ALLEN: ...And for many people here. And so people say about - when they asked about that, they say, I'll believe it when I see it.

KELLY: Yeah. I'm imagining this, of course, affects certain vulnerable categories of people more than others. I'm thinking about a lot of elderly people who live in rural areas of Puerto Rico. What are you hearing about that?

ALLEN: Right. Well, that is an issue. You know, in these rural areas, a lot of young people leave 'cause there's just so little work there. And with roads and bridges out, there are a lot of concerns that the people who need ongoing (inaudible), such as these elderly people - need things like dialysis treatments or regular visits to hospitals - they're unable to get the care they need.

We visited a small community high in the mountains outside of Orocovis today, where a road was mostly washed away in the storm. The local authorities went out and surveyed the scene. They declared the road unsafe, and they closed the road. But then right after that, then the local community residents came out and said, no, we can't close this road. We need it too much. A local contractor came, and they constructed a makeshift, temporary road so they can get into town. But there are some concerns about how stable it's going to be and whether it's going to last. So we'll see what happens there.

KELLY: OK. That is NPR's Greg Allen. He's been reporting today in Orocovis, Puerto Rico. Thank you so much, Greg.

ALLEN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As NPR's Miami correspondent, Greg Allen reports on the diverse issues and developments tied to the Southeast. He covers everything from breaking news to economic and political stories to arts and environmental stories. He moved into this role in 2006, after four years as NPR's Midwest correspondent.