Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands prepare for category 5 Hurricane María

by | Sep 18, 2017 | Headlines, Puerto Rico, United States Virgin Islands | Comments

The United States territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are preparing for the impact of the extremely dangerous Hurricane Irma, which reached category 5 late Monday, September 18. With sustained winds of up to 180 miles per hour, the hurricane is expected to cross the main island of Puerto Rico, making landfall close to the municipality of Maunabo in the south eastern portion of the island.

As of writing time all of Puerto Rico and the USVI is under a Hurricane Warning, which means that hurricane conditions are expected within the area, with preparations to protect life and property needing to be rushed to completion.

Most of the Lesser Antilles will experience at least tropical storm-force winds, beginning with Dominica which will begin to feel the effects of Maria during the next few hours. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands should expect the first effects on Tuesday night.

Declarations of emergency were signed by the US President for both territories, which were just starting to recover from Hurricane Irma. The declarations enable federal funds to be used to assist in preparation and recovery efforts.

In Puerto Rico, the “dry law” has been enacted by Governor Ricardo Rosselló, prohibiting the sale of alcohol for 48 hours, and prepared food is now exempted from the local sales tax from Thursday till Sunday. The Department of Consumer Affairs froze prices on first necessity items, and ordered stores to ration these. Around 500 shelters have opened across the islands for those who live in unsafe areas, after classes were suspended in the entire public school system since Monday. Rosselló said the hurricane is projected to be “the worst of the century in Puerto Rico,” as he called for citizens to take necessary measures to protect life and property. Puerto Rico has not had a direct impact of a category 5 hurricane since 1928.

“This can be a catastrophic event, as we saw recently with structures in the US Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico there are some better construction standards with cement and steady soil, but not all structures meet these. We can expect significant floods in Puerto Rico, especially in the valley areas. Environmentally speaking, we can potentially see a major disaster” said Lydia A. Vélez González, geology graduate from the University of Puerto Rico – Mayagüez Campus.

Close to 65,000 Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority customers were still without power, even 2 weeks after Hurricane Irma’s indirect hit.

In the US Virgin Islands, a curfew has been set starting Tuesday at 10:00 am across the entire territory, as it had to abruptly change from recovery to preparation mode. The islands of St. Thomas and St. John were already severely impacted by Hurricane Irma, with 95 percent of power infrastructure in the islands destroyed according to the VI Water and Power Authority.