State of emergency: the path of Hurricane Irma through Puerto Rico
Hurricane Irma passed just north of Puerto Rico, with the brunt of the storm being felt by the north and east side of the archipelago. A state of emergency was declared on Monday by the Governor of Puerto Rico with schools and the University of Puerto Rico closing and public workers having to cut their work day in half in order to prepare for the storms. Category 5 hurricanes are among the most destructive, guaranteeing coastal flooding and destruction of houses. Residents in San Juan were warned to cooperate with the mandatory evacuation if it applied to them; refusing to cooperate would mean a $500 fine and forcible removal by the police. FEMA and The National Guard were active to provide emergency services. American Airlines increased their flights for tourists leaving Puerto Rico and cruises were diverted away from the archipelago to avoid the incoming hurricane.
As the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey remains on everyone’s minds, citizens rushed to stock up on supplies such as water, canned foods, batteries, gasoline and power generators. Shelters were activated with residents near the coast being advised to evacuate along with anyone inland who lives near easily flooded areas and bodies of water that might increase in size. Puerto Rico’s power utility agency, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, has stated that the debilitated infrastructure would not be able to withstand any hurricane, especially a category 5, and Puerto Rico should expect a wait of up to four to five months before full electrical functionality can be restored. Similarly, the water utility agency also stated that water services may be temporarily unavailable. Even before the storm’s arrival, some sectors reported that they were already without electricity. PREPA’s warning is due to the fact that they are ill prepared because of the financial crisis that is afflicting Puerto Rico. They have been unable to invest in repairs (and even less in modernizing the electrical system), this coupled with with a low number of workers accounts for their lack of preparation.
On Thursday morning, after the passing of the storm, public workers and citizens alike surveyed damage to houses and roads. PREPA reported that at least 73% of clients were left without power due to Hurricane Irma. Half of the telecommunication systems are inoperable and have left many without cellphone service. Though cellphone companies have contacted their clients to inform them that they would not charge for their services at this time to allow for any afflicted citizens to communicate. Almost 80,000 have been left without water – representing about 6% of all Aqueduct & Sewer Authority clients. Three non-violent deaths were reported by the Public Safety Department Secretary Hector Pesquera. Viejo San Juan, a mainly touristic area, has been left with extensive damage including bent over trees and light posts blocking roads. Highways were left in similar conditions and have become a priority in clean up procedures.
The government and citizens alike are grateful that damage has not been as extensive as it could have been.