Puerto Rico governor calls Hurricane María ‘never before seen event’
SAN JUAN – “This is a never before seen event in Puerto Rico. This is not going to go away and will affect us,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Monday. “This is dangerous,” he stressed.
With these words, the governor, alongside a group of officials from the three branches of the island’s government, made a last call for residents to take the necessary precautions and evacuate flood-prone areas due to the imminent passing of Hurricane María Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, President Donald Trump declared that an emergency exists in the territories of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and ordered federal assistance to “supplement the response efforts due to the conditions” resulting from Hurricane María, considered the strongest storm to hit the islands in the past century.
The regional director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), Alejandro de la Campa, said federal funds will be advanced for Puerto Rico on Tuesday. While for state funds, the governor said $17 million of the $34 million available in the Emergency Fund was requested.
Rosselló signed an executive order to put in effect the prohibition of alcoholic beverage sales starting at noon Tuesday for 48 hours. He also ordered that prepared food sold in restaurants be sales and use tax (IVU by its Spanish acronym) exempt from Thursday to Sunday.
“All branches of government are here together to request that the people of Puerto Rico take action. Never before has an event such as this occurred,” the governor said in press conference while accompanied by Puerto Rico Supreme Court Chief Justice Maite Oronoz, the legislative presidents and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, among other officials.
According to the National Weather Service’s (NWS) 8 p.m. bulletin, María, now a Category 5 hurricane, was located at latitude 15.3 degrees North and longitude 61.1 degrees West–moving west-northwest at 9 miles per hour (mph), with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. Hurricane winds extend at least 25 miles from the center.
“This is an extremely dangerous hurricane. We probably haven’t had such a huge threat since 1928. No one remembers Hurricane San Felipe; this hurricane [María] is approaching that intensity,” warned Roberto García, the NWS’s director for Puerto Rico and the USVI. “By the time it gets to the Puerto Rico area, we are talking about 155 miles per hour,” he had said earlier, adding “it could be higher than that. That is catastrophic in every way.”
The effect of the hurricane will be felt starting Tuesday afternoon for about 24 hours due to the slow movement of the phenomenon. It could cause storm surge rising up to 8 feet and 20- to 25-foot swells or larger. It is forecast to pass over southeast Puerto Rico, crossing the island diagonally.
In Puerto Rico, there are 500 shelters around the island, including the Convention Center, which has a capacity of 66,826 people or up to 133,352 in an emergency, with food and water for 20 days.
In the dark
The governor also urged people to prepare for not having electric service available because of the delicate state of the electric utility’s (Prepa) infrastructure and the damage it could sustain. “No one in Puerto Rico should expect to have electricity in the subsequent days [to María],” the governor said.
Hurricane Irma left more than one million customers, 74% of the utility’s total, without service a week and a half ago. Prepa Executive Director Ricardo Ramos said that after Hurricane Hugo in 1989, it took nearly six months for electricity to be restored on the island, but María has stronger winds, so it could take longer.
Sufficient fuel in inventory
Despite several gas stations throughout the island having already run out of fuel, Consumer Affairs Secretary (DACO by its Spanish acronym) Michael Pierluisi said sufficient inventory is available. Specifically, he said there is enough 87-octane, or regular, gas to last 14 days, sufficient premium, or 91- or higher-octane gas to last 34 days, diesel for 48 days and liquefied gas for 27 days.
Pierluisi told Caribbean Business that since the price-freeze order was issued Sept. 3, about 100 businesses have been fined for violations.
Water shortage denied
Finally, the governor assured “there is no shortage of water” in Puerto Rico, despite several island businesses having already sold their inventory.
“There was a rationing ordered to prevent people from buying large quantities and then taking advantage of those sales,” Rosselló said, adding there was a cargo ship with water, fuel and food that is already set to reach Puerto Rico after the hurricane. Afterward, several additional ships are slated to arrive, including two of belonging to the U.S Navy, one of which has a fully functional hospital.