Date to reopen Puerto Rico schools not yet set amid Irma recovery efforts
SAN JUAN – La Fortaleza Chief of Staff William Villafañe provided an update on the government’s efforts following the passage of Hurricane Irma by Puerto Rico’s North East coast and said a date has yet to be set for island schools to reopen, but that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló will offer a related statement shortly.
Of the 6,200 people who requested taking refuge in shelters, 70 remain, said Villafañe, who explained that the number of people who lost their homes is greater, but many preferred to seek shelter in homes of friends or family and not in schools.
The emergency situation caused more than 1 million customers of the Electric Power Authority (Prepa) to lose service and 372,000 customers of the Aqueduct & Sewer Authority (Prasa) to lose access to tap water. Recovery efforts have lowered those numbers, so now there are 61,980 customers without water and 372,000 without power, the official said at a press conference in his office in La Fortaleza.
Of the 34 hospitals on the island that lost power during the emergency, only four remain, but Prepa brigades are working on the issue.
Of the island’s roads, there were more than 300 that needed some type of work and 72 were totally or partially blocked after the hurricane. Now, the government is working on four roads that continue blocked: PR-14 in Coamo, PR-468 in Aguadilla, PR-191 in Naguabo and PR-988 in Luquillo.
“It is being taken care of, work is being done to recover them. Some of the roads have broken sections and are projects that will take more time,” Villafañe said.
Government will not penalize citizens
Moreover, he said that Loíza is one of the 30 municipalities for which a disaster declaration could be requested of the U.S. government, in addition to the island-municipalities of Vieques and Culebra. After that declaration, citizens who lost their homes could receive financial aid of up to $33,000 or a rented home while a new one is built for them by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
Metropolitan Bus Authority (AMA), Metrobus, Maritime Transportation Authority (ATM) and Drivers Service Center (Cesco by its Spanish acronym) services are “fully operational.”
At government agencies that still lack water or electricity, employees are being transferred to other work areas to collaborate in recovery efforts after the hurricane, the chief of staff said.
As for government services that citizens request during these days, Villafañe said those who had deadlines will not be penalized, because it is understood that the hurricane affected operations.
“Those who had a date to meet these days, will not be penalized,” he assured.
Thousands of refugees from the Lesser Antilles
Menawhile, Villafañe added that Puerto Rico is ready to receive more than 4,000 people from the Lesser Antilles, especially those who suffered the biggest hit from Hurricane Irma: St. Martin, Tortola, Antigua and Barbuda, among others.
At the moment, he said, 1,220 seeking refuge from several islands were received Saturday, another 347 on Sunday, and more than 600 could arrive Monday. He thanked the hotels and transportation providers for their collaboration in the process, as well as the citizens who have sent aid to the neighboring islands.
“We are prepared to receive even more [than 4,000 refugees]. We were prepared to have a more critical situation here in Puerto Rico,” Villafañe said.