A man stands outside his house in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona in El Seibo, Dominican Republic

San Juan (AFP) - Hurricane Fiona battered the Turks and Caicos islands as a powerful Category 3 storm on Tuesday after leaving a trail of destruction in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

The top US disaster management official was headed to Puerto Rico meanwhile to assess the damage in the US territory still struggling to recover from Hurricane Maria five years ago.

Fiona has left at least two people dead as it churned across the Caribbean – a 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.

The Turks and Caicos, a British territory of some 38,000 people, was being lashed by heavy rains and strong winds as Fiona crept northwards on a path that could see the storm approaching Bermuda late Thursday.

“Hurricane Fiona has proven to be an unpredictable storm,” Anya Williams, the deputy governor of the Turks and Caicos, said in a broadcast.

A young person rides his bicycle in Nagua, Dominican Republic

Williams said no casualties or serious injuries had been reported in the Turks and Caicos overnight but she urged residents to continue to shelter in place.

Blackouts were reported on Grand Turk and several other islands in the archipelago and 165 people were admitted to shelters, she said, adding that Britain’s Royal Navy and the US Coast Guard are standing by provide assistance.

The US National Hurricane Center (NHC) said Fiona was packing maximum winds nearing 115 miles (185 kilometers) per hour, making it a major hurricane, and it is expected to become even stronger.

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.

This undated handout photo shows members of the National Guard providing hurricane assistance in Puerto Rico

Several roads were flooded or cut off by falling trees or electric poles around Punta Cana where the power was knocked out.

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 told AFP, bemoaning the destroyed businesses in the area.

- ‘I have food and water’ -

Map showing the projected path of Hurricane Fiona

US President Joe Biden has declared a state of emergency in Puerto Rico – where the storm hit a day earlier – and dispatched the head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency to the island.

“We’re sending hundreds of additional staff in the next few days to place staff in each of the impacted communities,” FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said.

Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisi said the storm had caused catastrophic damage on the island of three million people since Sunday, with some areas receiving more than 30 inches (76 centimeters) of rain.

Michelle Carlo, medical advisor for Direct Relief in Puerto Rico, told CBS News that “a lot of people in Puerto Rico are suffering right now.”

“About 80 percent of Puerto Ricans are still without power and about 65 percent are without water service,” Carlo said.

Across Puerto Rico, Fiona caused landslides, blocked roads and toppled trees, power lines and bridges, Pierluisi said.

A damaged estaurant located after the passage of Hurricane Fiona in Samana, Dominican Republic

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 – told AFP by telephone.

The hurricane has 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 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.