Puerto Rico Update-The Orlando Times
Months After Maria Puerto Rico Is Still In the Dark
COMPILED BY JALESSA CASTILLO, TIMES STAFF WRITER
It has been months since hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico. Yet the once prominent tourist destination is still in shambles despite efforts to bring the U.S commonwealth back to eminence.
It was announced on November 27, 2017 that FEMA was transitioning Puerto Rico’s status from disaster response to recovery, but serious issues are still plaguing residents. In addition to the more than 30% of Puerto Ricans who are still without power, the threat of disease continues to grow.
Additionally, it was reported that the death toll was 64, however, it is being said that the territorial government has vastly undercounted deaths from the storm and its aftermath, with the true tally likely topping 1,000.
According to a recent report from The Washington Post, The U.S Army Corps of Engineers has installed more than 1,000 generators and estimates that full power will be restored in May. They note the island's rough terrain, lack of supplies and an aging infrastructure as reasons for the delay. This leaves some of the island without power for seven months.
To further complicate matters, a battle for control over the grid, politics, and the future of Puerto Rico’s energy profile has consumed the recovery process.
Governor Ricardo Rossello has gone on record to predict the restoration of power as early as February 2018. Unfortunately, these conflicting reports have residents confused and worried about when power will truly be restored.
"Everybody saw that the devastation was great, but I don't understand why they're trying to sell people something that's not real," said Christian Pagan, who lives near the capital of San Juan, in an interview with the Associated Press. "The first month was lost to bureaucracy and an uncoordinated reaction."
The revelation that more than 660,000 customers across Puerto Rico still lack electricity has sparked outrage, surprise and resignation among some islanders.
Maria hit on Sept. 20th with winds of up to 154 mph, yet one of Puerto Rico's 78 cities still remains entirely without power. It's unclear when some electricity will be restored to the central mountain town of Ciales. Crews this week restored power for the first time to parts of the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, which received the first hit from Maria.
Fredyson Martinez, vice president of a union that represents Puerto Rico power company workers, told the AP that a recent study by local engineers found that 90% of industries and 75% of businesses already have power, meaning residential areas are disproportionately in the dark.
Government officials said nearly 14,000 poles already have been shipped to Puerto Rico, and that an additional 7,000 will arrive in upcoming days. In addition, some 3,500 workers are trying to restore power across the island, with many working through the holidays.
They went on to say that Puerto Rico has 2,400 miles of transmission lines, 30,000 miles of distribution lines and 342 substations that suffered substantial damage during the hurricane.
Carlos Torres, who is overseeing power restoration efforts, said that crews are still finding unexpected damage, including what he called severely impacted substations.
"We will not stop working until every person and business has their lights back on," he said.
A very out-spoken advocate for the Puerto Rican people is San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Cruz.
In an interview with ABC News from San Juan this week, Cruz referred to the president as, “a disaster-in-chief,” noting that “President Trump does not embody the values of the good-hearted American people that have made sure that we are not forgotten.”
Providing medical care to locals is another challenge facing the island. Many are suffering from respiratory problems and need vaccinations while concern over mental health is also in the forefront as people are growing desperate.
In an attempt to further the territory’s recovery two Florida lawmakers are set to visit Puerto Rico on Wednesday. U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Rep. Darren Soto, both D-Fla, are set to meet with local leaders and receive updates on the recovery efforts on the island.
Sen. Nelson is expected to share what he learns with Puerto Ricans who live in Central Florida during a meeting in Osceola County on Thursday.
This is not the only effort made by Florida’s government to help Puerto Rico. Gov. Rick Scott vowed Tuesday to continue to help the displaced citizens of Puerto Rico who are now living in Florida.
"We've had about, just less than 300,000 people that have moved, have come here, from Puerto Rico," Scott said. "We're doing everything from helping people get a job to helping them get housing to helping them get into the right schools."
With schools down in Puerto Rico, more than 2,500 Puerto Rican students have enrolled in Orange and Osceola County public schools.
In response to the growing Puerto Rican population, the state and local government partnered with the Disaster Relief Center (DRC) in the Orlando International Airport (OIA) to help those seeking refuge until November 1, 2017. They are continuing to offer services to Puerto Rican evacuees and residents at the HOLA Office, Monday-Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at 595 North Primrose Drive Orlando, FL 32803.
For additional information and updates, please visit www.Cityoforlando.net/hola or www.facebook.com/ciudaddeorlando.
Recovery efforts are also being put forth by the United States Government via FEMA, as mentioned earlier. Their recovery plan consists of helping with Puerto Rico’s housing, infrastructure Systems, economic recovery, health and social services, natural and cultural resources, and community planning and capacity building.
As the New Year begins the issues mounted against Puerto Rico must not be forgotten. Despite the various efforts, there are still many problems the island is facing. As a U.S Commonwealth, it is the responsibility of the United States to help provide and care for these people before it is too late.