Gov’t gears up to respond to record-breaking rains, flooding
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Sunday that he had been in communication with several mayors whose municipalities were hard-hit by the record-setting rains resulting from the passage of a trough over the island, and that a damage analysis was being conducted to identify the necessary funds to meet the needs.
“The entire island has been receiving large amounts of rain, but there are several municipalities such as Vega Alta, Toa Baja, Dorado, Cataño and others that have had more serious situations that we are addressing,” the governor said in a written statement. “I have been in communication and coordination with the secretary of the Department of Public Safety (DPS), Alexis Torres, and the commissioner of the Emergency Management Bureau (NMEAD), Nino Correa, as well as with the mayors of the most affected municipalities, to provide an immediate response and quickly identify their needs. At the moment, an assessment of the damage is being made to implement the measures that are required, such as an emergency declaration in some municipalities.”
The mayors of Cataño and Toa Alta declared states of emergency in their respective municipalities on Sunday afternoon. Additional municipal employees were activated in Maunabo, meanwhile.
As of Saturday, Doppler radar had estimated that between six and 10 inches of rain had been recorded from San Juan to Vega Baja.
Multiple reports of landslides, urban and flash flooding were received. Rapidly rising rivers were detected by U.S. Geological Service sensors. As a result, flood warnings, watches and flash flood advisories were in effect. People were warned to move away from rivers, streams and low-lying areas.
Unstable weather continued through Sunday, as soil had become saturated, additional rivers rose, and flooding and landslides occured. The areas most at risk were in the eastern half of the island. In the afternoon Sunday, additional activity impacted the western interior and other portions of western Puerto Rico. Weather conditions were expected to finally improve by late Sunday or early today.
Local ocean areas remained dangerous with swells of six to 10 feet and easterly winds of 15 to 20 knots. Warnings for small boat operators were to be in effect until early in the week, with showers and thunderstorms expected to continue affecting local waters. For the beaches, a Strong Surf Warning continued for the north coast of Puerto Rico and Culebra, due to breaking waves of 12 to 15 feet. Ocean currents for the northern and eastern beaches, Vieques and Culebra were at high risk, and the rest were at moderate risk.
The Housing Department’s Emergency Management Office, in coordination with NMEAD and the Municipal Emergency Management Offices, went to the areas affected by the rains in the municipalities of Toa Baja and Cataño, resulting in the opening of two shelters.
Pierluisi urged the public to stay indoors as much as possible Sunday due to the heavy rains that have deluged the island in recent days.
“Today the record for precipitation from 1998 in Puerto Rico was broken. I call on you to use much caution, to remain in your homes and avoid going on the highways,” the governor said on Facebook. “The floods present danger in various regions. Take care of yourselves and take care of your loved ones.”
At the time of this writing, the shelter in Toa Baja was open with a total of eight refugees while in Cataño a shelter was open with a total of seven refugees.
If necessary, the Housing Department is prepared to offer rehousing alternatives to affected families under the public housing program.
DPS Secretary Alexis Torres, along with NMEAD Commissioner Nino Correa, Firefighters Bureau Commissioner Marcos Concepción and Emergency Medical Corps Bureau Commissioner Javier Rodríguez, toured several affected municipalities Sunday morning.
They said recovery work has already been initiated and a soil study will be conducted this week. Meanwhile, kilometer (km) 25.1 of PR-2 in Dorado remained closed as of press time. On Sunday afternoon a fallen tree was reported on PR-1 at km 9.8, and Department of Public Works operations personnel responded immediately.
The American Red Cross, meanwhile, activated its volunteers on Sunday to begin an evaluation of damage in Cataño, Dorado, Vega Alta and Toa Baja.
The evaluation permits the identification of affected families who require financial assistance to cover their basic necessities.
The assistance of the Red Cross is free.
Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) Executive President Doriel Pagán reported that several filtration plants were out of operation due to high turbidity and clogged dams due to the rains.
As of press time, the filtration plants that remained offline were the following: Cubuy in Carolina; Jaguas Ceiba, Jaguas Pasto, Rancheras and Maizales in Naguabo; Cordillera in Ciales; Espino in San Lorenzo; Morovis in Río Grande; and Comerio.
Officials reported that PRASA personnel would be cleaning the grills in the raw water intakes, to restore the filtration and distribution of the plants as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the following facilities were out of operation due to voltage fluctuations: the Hatillo-Camuy dam, Morovis Sur filtration plants, and pumping stations, Buena Vista Grande, and Peñas 1 and 2 in Bayamón, and Saint Just.
As part of the protocols in the management of the island’s reservoirs, a controlled opening of the gates at the La Plata dam was carried out. The Culebrinas Filtration Plant in Aguadilla continued to operate at low capacity due to mechanical failure in one of the raw water intake pumps.
As a result, the municipalities with sectors experiencing service interruption were the following: San Juan, Aguadilla, Moca, Aguada, Morovis, Naguabo, San Lorenzo, Ciales, Comerio, Naranjito, Río Grande and Trujillo Alto. PRASA officials recommended that once service is restored, boil the water for three minutes before human consumption. If additional information is needed, subscribers can contact the Customer Service Telephone Center during its regular business hours, from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., by calling (787) 620-2482, 1-877-411-2482 (island) or (787) 751-8125 for the hearing impaired. They can also stay informed by accessing www.acueductospr.com from a computer or mobile phone or by following social networks under @acueductospr on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Regarding electricity service, LUMA Energy reported that at 2 p.m. Sunday there were 7,752 customers without service, out of some 41,209 customers without service that were reported Saturday night at 9 p.m.