Gov’t still prepares as possible tropical storm nears Puerto Rico
By Pedro Correa Henry
Special to The Star
As the government kept saying they are ready for a weather-related disaster risk, they were still preparing on Tuesday evening as the National Weather Service (NWS) issued a tropical storm warning for Puerto Rico and the U.S Virgin Islands due to Potential Tropical Cyclone 9, which was on course to arrive late this afternoon.
Earlier in the day, as La Fortaleza called the press to the Emergency Management and Disaster Administration Bureau (NMEAD by its Spanish acronym) Operations Center to follow up for the preparations during hurricane season on Tuesday at 11:30 a.m., only NMEAD Acting Commissioner Nino Correa Filomeno and Public Safety Department (DSP by its Spanish initials) Secretary Pedro Janer showed up and said the bureau is still preparing for the climatic event. Vázquez was unavailable as she had other business to attend to.
“We were at a meeting and she had other commitments pending,” Correa said. “On my part, I asked her, at one point, to request every agency chief to come here and participate in these meetings in order to address the coming emergency. We were supposed to have a drill here with personnel from the Federal Emergency and Management Agency in order to take this matter with a bit more seriousness.”
Correa said with the NWS still monitoring Potential Tropical Cyclone 9 (PTC 9), as there was no certainty with its behavior, he asked Vázquez to hand out all essential information to prepare their work plan. Meanwhile, NMEAD waits for NWS to respond as they ordered a hurricane-hunting aircraft to analyze the 400-mile wide atmospheric phenomenon and provide a certain forecast.
“What the NWS has said in advance is that we will be getting rain; however, once the hurricane hunting aircraft returns and lands, we will later be able to acknowledge what this phenomenon is about and how we will work with it,” Correa said.
Janer added that the DSP is still on the alert as the weather service reports updates from PTC 9. Likewise, he called for islanders to be calm as the storm does not compare to Hurricane Maria.
“We want to refine information according to the amount of knowledge we have at the moment; once we get results from the hurricane-hunting aircraft, we will get a deeper picture as to what scenario to expect and what we are truly waiting for,” Janer said. “As of now, we will get a lot of rain, a lot of water in the next three days. We are not in the same situation as with Hurricane Maria, but we have to respect it.”
When a member of the press asked, due to the limited information available at the time, what else NMEAD is working on given the amount of rain that the island expects from the atmospheric event, Correa emphasized that as the Atlantic hurricane season is going to be more active, he called for family members to work on their emergency plans and added that once they get an accurate prognosis from NWS, NMEAD will identify which areas will be vulnerable to floods and will communicate with the mayors of the affected municipalities, especially the southern municipalities. Nonetheless, as the bureau is still identifying more spaces to use as shelters, he said that there were 324 refugee centers available.
“Today, we have to temper everything to COVID-19,” Correa said. “We held meetings that are important because we want everyone to be clear that there are some schools in the south that, depending on the amount of rain we get, they will not be used for shelters. We are identifying community centers, [abandoned] warehouses, hotels, motels; we’re still working on spaces that are suitable for refugees.”
At press time, the governor had yet to speak to the press due to a meeting with agency chiefs at the NMEAD Operations Center that addressed preparations related to the tropical storm warning. According to a NWS briefing, tropical storm conditions were expected to reach the island this afternoon and continue through Thursday morning.