Puerto Rico party presidents tour storm-struck town
SAN JUAN – Recently, Aurea Morales, of Utuado’s Cayuco sector, dreamt about Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. Little did she know she would have the opportunity to tell the governor she believes God sent him in the dream.
“God is going to bless you and He will obey you,” she said in tears as she embraced the governor, who made his first visit to Utuado on Wednesday after Hurricane Maria hit four weeks ago. “You arrived! May God give you the wisdom I know He gave you,” added the woman as she lined up in the communal center of the Caguana neighborhood, where supplies were distributed for the homesteads and names of recipients of the aid were taken.
Morales was not the only person moved when Rosselló arrived in the company of the president of the minority Popular Democratic Party (PDP), Héctor Ferrer, to distribute food in one of the poorest sectors of Utuado. Sonia María Figueroa also cried upon seeing the governor. “We’re in need. There are many people without homes,” she said.
Utuado Mayor Ernesto Irizarry said “more than 25% of the houses” in his municipality lost their roofs, but had only received 300 to 400 provisional tarps, which is too “few,” he added. Preliminarily, he said the municipality sustained more than $300 million in infrastructure damage, a number that could rise after a report is concluded in the coming weeks.
Not everyone celebrated. Dialis Medina, 37, who arrived with her four children to pick up food, said that government aid to Utuado, one of the most affected by the major hurricane, has been arriving late, while the municipality has yet to have electricity restored, has water shortages and telecommunications problems.
The storm’s aftermath has led to other problems that are being replicated in many municipalities of Puerto Rico’s mountainous inland such as inoperational bank branches and ATMs and the Nutrition Assistance Program (PAN by its Spanish acronym) card not being accepted.
“[The most difficult] the first week [was] to get food, but thank God, all in all, we haven’t lacked anything. We have had to travel to other places to make purchases. We went to Arecibo, arrived at Cabo Rojo. I was able to buy in Mayagüez because there was a system [to process the PAN card],” said Medina, whose residence was flooded, which resulted in lost food and clothing.
14 bridges affected in Utuado
In Puerto Rico, at least 32 bridges were severely damaged, Rosselló said. Fourteen of the bridges are in Utuado, were many areas are still isolated in the island’s largest municipality nearly a month after the historic storm hit.
The curves and mountains complicate the transportation of supplies, and the rains of the past few days further delayed cleanup work from the resulting landslides and broken roads, taking progress 15 days back, the mayor said.
“There is no money, there is no ATM, there is no way to change the PAN card for food,” added the mayor, whose town still has 200 hurricane evacuees housed in two shelters.
“Within the whole negative scenario we’ve had, the will of the people was never broken. I don’t have anyone thirsty. I don’t have anyone going hungry,” said Irizarry, but acknowledging that people walk “two hours” a day to get to their jobs or look for supplies.
Faced with this situation, the governor pledged to “provide support and assistance throughout the road to recovery.” He also promised to help the mayor to “start sports among the youth” by providing balls for the town for matches to be held while people continue “without internet.”
Meanwhile, Ferrer and Rosselló also traveled in National Guard helicopter to Naranjito, where they delivered 18 water pallets, the main need in that area, to the municipal distribution center in the town. In that municipality, at least 2,100 homes were damaged, of which 700 “were completely devastated.” They still have 90 evacuees and a community that is still isolated: Los Alvarado.
Naranjito Mayor Orlando Ortiz explained that two weeks ago he changed the way food was being distributed, visiting the town’s sectors daily to take supplies. Some sectors have been visited up to five times. The mayor said that, to date, some 40,000 bags of food have been distributed, which included canned goods as well food that required preparation.
“I’m grateful to the governor for the courtesy and the honor of inviting me to talk and visit several municipalities together. As president of the PDP, it is our moral duty to put aside differences and work together and united for the recovery of Puerto Rico,” said Ferrer, without mentioning the ongoing dispute between San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who belongs to his party, and the governor.