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For any additional questions about republishing Direct Relief content, please email the team here.

Search and Rescue Efforts Continue as Hurricane Fiona Brings Power Blackouts to Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico National Guard Officials estimate that over 1,000 people have been rescued from flood waters since the storm made landfall Sunday. Direct Relief is in contact with health centers and local organizations in Puerto Rico to assess damages and supply needs, and is monitoring impacts in the Dominican Republic and other countries in the storm's path.


Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico's National Guard, pictured here on Sept. 18. 2022, deployed on the island to assist with search and rescue efforts resulting from Hurricane Fione's impacts. The hurricane made landfall on Sept. 18. 2022, and many areas experienced intense flooding. (Photo courtesy of Puerto Rico National Guard)

Hurricane Fiona made landfall Sunday afternoon, impacting the island’s south the hardest. At the same time, heavy rains and strong winds created dangerous conditions and widespread power outages for all of Puerto Rico.

More than 1 million people were without power on the island Monday morning, according to LUMA Energy, which operates the island’s electric power system.

Almost five years ago to the day, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, and rural areas and those in flood zones continue to feel the worst impacts. Direct Relief is in communication with local health facilities about medical needs, and the organization has staff in Puerto Rico, which also serves as a hub for regional disaster response in the Caribbean.

In addition to having emergency response staff stationed in Puerto Rico, Direct Relief has caches of emergency medical supplies at health clinics in Puerto Rico and other hurricane-prone areas. The caches contain the medical items most needed in the wake of a disaster, including trauma supplies, antibiotics, and medications for diabetes, hypertension and other chronic conditions.

Beyond Puerto Rico, emergency meds are prepositioned in Anguilla, the Bahamas, Barbados, British Virgin Islands, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Panama, St. Lucia, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines.


Major disasters often shut down vital health care services, such as hospitals and pharmacies. They can also cut off electricity and running water supplies, compromising sanitation and depriving people of heat, air conditioning, and the power required to keep a medical device running.

The human toll of these disruptions can exceed that of the disaster itself. In Puerto Rico, for instance, a now-influential study found that the death toll after Hurricane Maria was considerably higher than official estimates suggested – approximately 4,600. One-third of those deaths, the study authors found, were caused by a lack of access to health care caused by power blackouts, spoiled temperature-sensitive medications, lost medical records and inoperable medical equipment.

It’s why, in the five years since Hurricane Maria, Direct Relief has invested significantly in equipping health centers in Puerto Rico with resilient power solutions comprised of solar and battery backup systems, allowing them to keep treating patients even during extended power outages.

The resilient infrastructure was recently stress-tested in April when a major Puerto Rico power plant fire plunged much of the island into darkness for days. Nonprofit organization Por Los Nuestros, with grant funding from Direct Relief, installed solar panels and battery storage systems in communities not served by the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA). These non-PRASA communities rely on electric pumps to supply drinking water. During the April blackout, 24 out of 25 aqueducts continued to operate adequately. Eight community health centers with solar energy systems and batteries installed also reported operating at full capacity.

Direct Relief has also furnished 93 health center sites across the island with 170 FDA-compliant pharmaceutical and laboratory refrigerators and freezers with enough capacity to store roughly 6 million vials of vaccines.


Direct Relief has increasingly used Puerto Rico as a regional hub for crisis response, including as a rapid response hub for Haiti’s 2021 earthquake and Hurricane Dorian in the Bahamas. Relief supplies are kept in stock on the island, and emergency response personnel are ready to respond to any regional emergency.


When responding to disasters, early detection and early response lead to better outcomes in almost every case. Direct Relief has expanded its focus on bringing emergency data analysis into real-time through precision alerting platforms like Dataminr and Factal, real-time population dynamics data from the Meta platform to understand evacuation and displacement, and sensor data on fire, smoke, heat, hurricane winds, and storm surge from Esri’s Living Atlas. By linking real-time data on disaster events and how communities respond to those events with baseline models on social vulnerability, hazards, and losses, Direct Relief can move quickly to provide the right assistance to the right places at the right time.

Direct Relief is in contact with health centers and local organizations in Puerto Rico to assess damages and supply needs and is monitoring impacts in the Dominican Republic and other countries in the storm’s path.

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