Some Puerto Rico towns experiencing serious trash-collection problems
SAN JUAN – Not only did Hurricane Maria leave Puerto Rico in the dark and with severe telecommunications problems, but the historic storm also resulted in domestic trash collection being ground to a halt in at least three municipalities, which could lead to serious health situations.
Specifically, Lares, Utuado and Naranjito, the three of which are in the island’s mountainous inland, have asked the Environmental Quality Board (EQB) for garbage collection assistance, the secretary of Public Affairs and Public Policy, Ramón Rosario, said Wednesday.
The Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) will be tasked with providing assistance to municipalities, said Rosario, who also pointed out that there are six other towns that either have areas that lack communications or that garbage trucks cannot pass. These municipalities were not identified.
The official said it is likely USACE would hire a company that carries out waste collection, “and we need the help,” he added.
“The Corps of Engineers has several fronts. It’s working on the garbage collection initiative now. It’s working with Aqueduct & Sewer [Authority] for the water-pump generators, of which nearly 400 have been requested and 100 have been installed. And the part of Electric Power [Authority],” the secretary said.
However, the official also said the local government isn’t depending solely on the Corp of Engineers.
“They [USACE] have wanted to do much more. What they do is subcontract jobs on many occasions. However, precisely because of the delays they have had and because of everything they are doing at the same time, we haven’t been depending exclusively on them. For example, for electric power, we are bringing the [repair] crews, regardless of the calendar,” he said.
In response to questions about the constant criticisms against USACE, Rosario indicated that the administration has been requesting work be sped up in all fronts, not only of the federal entity. “We are in times that merit urgency.”
Maria-related death toll unchanged
During Wednesday’s briefing, Rosario also confirmed that the death toll after Hurricane Maria continues at 51, a figure that unofficially is said to be much higher.
The official stressed that, five weeks after Maria, electric power is at its highest yet, at 25%, which does not mean that percentage of the population has service.
At least 75% of the island’s water utility customers have service, or 7,808 more than Tuesday, while cell site service reached 65%, and 58% of the the telecommunications towers are operational.
Currently, there are 83 shelters with 3,758 evacuees; 927 gas stations open (84%), or 54 more than Tuesday; and 421 open supermarkets (89%); as well as 230 banks (73%) and 265 cooperatives.
In total there are 1,022 ATMs available, 1,022 pharmacies operating online, and 80 hotels (52%) and 14 casinos (78%) open.