Puerto Rico under flash flood watch amid agonizing wait for supplies
PUERTO RICO — Puerto Rico is under a flash flood watch as the agonizing wait for food and supplies continues in the US island after Hurricane Maria hit more than a week ago.
Heavy rain is expected through the weekend, which “will aggravate the ongoing recovery and relief efforts,” the National Weather Service said.
The US military is distributing 900 sandbags to shore up the Guajataca Dam after it suffered an infrastructure failure following the hurricane. Hundreds of people were evacuated.
Federal officials say aid has been delivered across the island — yet millions of residents are still without electricity, water or gas.
Many roads are badly damaged or blocked, preventing people from reaching many communities across the island.
People are living in shelters, hospitals are struggling to provide care and many are scrambling to get fuel, food and money.
Elaine Duke, acting secretary of Homeland Security , plans travel to the US commonwealth Friday to help coordinate the federal government’s response efforts.
As the island attempts to recover, here’s what lies ahead:
- The death toll from Hurricane Maria currently stands at 16. Authorities have not released information about the number of people injured during and after the hurricane.
- Hospitals in Puerto Rico have been struggling to treat patients. Some don’t have enough medication while others have a shortage of fuel for generators.
- There are 51 hospitals considered operational out of the island’s 69, according to homeland security adviser Tom Bossert.
- The US Army has been delivering fuel to hospitals as part of a rotation plan developed by FEMA to ensure they have continuous power, officials said.
- Still many roads are impassable, preventing many people from reaching medical facilities.
- President Donald Trump on Thursday authorized a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act, a federal law that limits shipping to US ports by foreign vessels. Puerto Rico’s governor and other US officials had argued that a waiver would expedite the shipping of supplies to the island.
- Nearly 1 million meals and about 2 million liters of water have been given as of Thursday, according to FEMA.
- Thousands of containers filled with food, water and medical aid appeared to be sitting at Puerto Rico’s main Port of San Juan on Thursday.
- None of the idle containers carry aid sent by FEMA, said Alex de la Campa, the agency’s Caribbean area division director.
- Part of the reason for distribution backlogs at the port is that only 20% of truck drivers have reported back to work since Hurricane Maria swept through, according to a representative for Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rosselló.
Federal and state response
- The Pentagon has appointed Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan to lead all military hurricane recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Buchanan is a three-star general and the commander of US Army North (5th Army).
FEMA has given $17 million to Puerto Rico, John Rabin, the agency’s acting regional administrator told reporters Thursday.
- Of that, $13.5 million will go to the government and municipalities, and $3.5 million to individuals for assistance.
- At least 10,000 federal relief workers and 7,500 troops are on the island, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said.
- New York and South Carolina sent law enforcement officers and National Guard members to Puerto Rico, officials said.
- Many Puerto Ricans are running low on money and many restaurants, supermarkets and gas stations are only accepting cash because the credit card system is down.
- At least half of all bank branches remain shuttered as they can’t get enough armored trucks with gas, or truck drivers, to deliver the cash safely.
- Banks are also struggling to get software and safety systems back online, according to Zoime Alvarez, vice president of the Association of Banks of Puerto Rico.
Rebuilding and moving forward
- The US Army Corps of Engineers have been assigned to help Puerto Rico rebuild its infrastructure, a FEMA deputy director said.
- The US Department of Transportation’s federal highway administration has announced the immediate availability of $40 million to help restore roads and bridges across the island and damage related to mudslides and flooding.
- The University of Central Florida and Miami-Dade College are offering in-state tuition to displaced college students from Puerto Rico, officials said.
- The San Juan Airport and eight other airfields are open or open with restrictions, FEMA said.
- The airport started allowing more than a dozen commercial passenger planes to fly in and out of San Juan after air traffic control services were restored.