Puerto Rico: ‘Irma Gave Us a Break, Maria Destroyed Us’

Puerto Rico: ‘Irma Gave Us a Break, Maria Destroyed Us’

[UPDATED SEPT. 22] Puerto Rico is an island  without electricity today after Hurricane Maria pummeled the U.S. territory on Wednesday when the Category 4 storm made landfall. The devastation is massive. The U.S. Virgin Islands also sustained damage from just a glancing blow as Hurricane Maria swept in.

The scale of destruction is only starting to reveal itself. Now comes word that damage to the Guajataca Dam may mean some  70,000 residents who live nearby have to evacuate.

The New York Times has been covering the storm and aftermath with an eloquence that captures the scale of the destruction and what the residents are facing:

The town of Boa Baja was still sorting through the chaos on Friday morning.

Muddy waters still isolated entire neighborhoods. Flooded houses smelled of mud, food and excrement. The town government was just beginning to account for people and supplies in shelters. Volunteers and government rescuers continued to rescue stranded residents on boats and trucks. Dead horses were found scattered in the streets, eyes bulging and bodies bloated by the waters.

The chief executive of the government-owned Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Ricardo Ramos, has reportedly said the electrical grid to the island has been destroyed. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was in tough shape before the hurricane hit. The New York Times describes the situation:

Puerto Rico faces numerous obstacles as it begins to emerge from the storm: the weight of an extended debt and bankruptcy crisis; a recovery process begun after Irma, which killed at least three people and left nearly 70 percent of households without power; the difficulty of getting to an island far from the mainland; and the strain on relief efforts by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and other groups already spread thin in the wake of several recent storms.

“Irma gave us a break, but Maria destroyed us,” Edwin Serrano, a construction worker in Old San Juan, said.

The storm churned off the northern coast of the Dominican Republic as a Category 3 storm on Thursday, and the National Hurricane Center repeated hurricane warnings for late Thursday and early Friday morning for the southeastern Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos.

Puerto Rico was already under water in debt before the storm hit. It owes $74 billion to bondholders, and was toiling with $50 billion in unfunded pensions before Maria made landfall.

I’ve been cataloging the recent hurricanes that hit southeast Texas and Texas with situation report/memos that help track  damage to infrastructure in the regions. I’m now adding Puerto Rico to the list:

  • Made landfall in Puerto Rico early Wednesday as cat 4 Hurricane with 155 mph sustained winds.
  • Hurricane Maria has cut power to the entire island of Puerto Rico as the death toll rises to at least 9 (NYP http://st/2xQG0JB), 3.5 million across Island w/o power
  • Weeks or months before power fully restored; Curfew imposed (officials, multiple news source)
  • Maria crossed the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, then weakened slightly but remained “extremely dangerous.” (NYT)
  • Tornadoes were (still) possible over Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as storm weakened, and Maria was expected to remain a dangerous hurricane through Friday. (NYT)
  • 11,000 in shelters across Puerto Rico (more expected) (NYT, numerous reports)
  • FEMA’s Brock Long: Island is still under flash flood warnings. Assets in place to move in when storm passes. Goals: life safety; life sustaining and rescue teams when storm passes;
  • Power crews on foot to begin work of restoring with roads blocked, flooding;
  • San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz: We’re looking at four to six months without electricity. (MSNBC via NYP)
  • Territory asking for disaster declaration (multiple news sources)

Dominica’s 72,000 residents hit with maximum sustained winds of nearly 160 miles per hour (NYT); seven 7 reported deaths in Dominica from the storm (multiple

Critical Infrastructure updates:

  1. Electricity, Gas:
  • (NYT) Electricity was knocked out on the whole island, a spokeswoman for the Puerto Rico State Agency for Emergency and Disaster Management said. The authorities warned weary residents not to let down their guard, because flash flooding and mudslides could be more deadly than the initial winds. (NYT)
  • We’re looking at four to six months without electricity,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC. (via NYP)
  • Crews on foot to start restoration while roads blocked, flooded (numerous reports).
  • Cell phone providers rely on electricity to deliver service; not a lot of Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) present;
  • FEMA’s Long: Looking to provide/restore emergency power to get P.R. back to routine to start rebuilding and recovery.

2. Roadways, waterways: Just getting started on roadways as winds die down; Island is shut down after sustaining major damage from Maria.

3. Hospitals: Damage to critical infra; hospitals – working to alleviate (FEMA’s Long)

4. Airports: Island w/o electricity

5. Schools: island w/o electricity


 Damage, Response, Rescue, pre-Recovery

  1. NYT: Hurricane Maria reached Puerto Rico as a powerful Category 4 storm early Wednesday. Hours before, it had crossed the United States Virgin Islands as a Category 5 storm, and tore roofs off houses on the Caribbean island of Dominica. 
  1. Puerto Rico, Caribbean: Have not experienced event of this magnitude in their history;
  2. Phones: landlines also cut (Officials)
  3. NHC – life threatening wind, rain, surge: up to 9 feet expected; dangerous waves Wed. eve
  4. widespread flooding
  5. Dominica: Prime Minister rescued from his home; few homes w/out damage: (NYT)
  6. (FNC) FEMA Administrator Brock Long: 3200 staff on Virgin Island and PR. Looking to deploy out as storm passes through.
  7. Looking to get airports open airports and shipping ports going as soon as possible after storm;
  8. Is FEMA Stretched thin? Long: We’re dedicated, running for 30 days; will continue to meet the demands; dedicated to helping people; we’re good to go;
  9. Want to help? Nvoad.org – Will publicize other ways to support territories in coming weeks;
  10. San Juan metro residents don’t expect power back for months
  11. Jenniffer González, Puerto Rico’s Representative in Congress: Going to take a long time to restore infrastructure to the islands.

No resident escaped the impact, with roofs blown off homes, and residents literally cooking meals in the streets, while water supplies trickle.

As of Friday, supplies were coming in and the National Guard was on the island.


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