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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor declares emergency in numerous towns due to rains

A submerged parking lot is seen from the second floor of Ernesto Ramos Antonini School in the Pueblo neighborhood of Yauco, where it was reported that rescuers helped about a dozen stranded students reach safety. (Entérate sin filtro/Facebook)

By John McPhaul

Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia announced on Wednesday that he signed an emergency declaration for some 18 municipalities due to the effects, including severe flooding, of heavy rains in recent days.

“... It is a large list of towns that we include in the order. Yauco is one of them. I’m going to be in Yauco, from here I go there, among other towns that I’m going to be visiting,” the governor said in response to questions from the press. “Heavy rain is expected this afternoon. Let’s hope that tomorrow things will be normalizing.”

“Of course, the terrain is very saturated and the … river levels are high, so of course, at the level of refuge, I gave the statistics this morning in reports that I had, because the people, most of the people, have returned to their homes,” Pierluisi added. “But I’m going to keep a close eye on what happens this afternoon. And the truth and reality is that there is good coordination between the mayors and the central government, from [Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD) Commissioner] Nino Correa [Filomeno] to Transportation and Public Works, Highways Authority, all the entities, Housing, Family, all the entities are well alert to attend to any situation.”

The municipalities included in the initial emergency declaration as of press time on Wednesday were: Adjuntas, Arecibo, Camuy, Ciales, Corozal, Guayanilla, Lares, Manatí, Maricao, Mayagüez, Naranjito, Ponce, Río Grande, Sabana Grande, Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Utuado and Yauco.

During his visit to Yauco later in the day, the governor said he was adding Orocovis, Barranquitas, Añasco and Peñuelas to the emergency declaration.

Correa Filomeno, meanwhile, said that as a result of the rains, several flooding situations had been addressed.

“All personnel of the Bureau for Emergency Management and Disaster Administration and its zones are activated, in constant communication with heads of agencies, mayors and their directors of the Municipal Offices for Emergency Management,” the NMEAD chief said in a written statement. “The most important thing is that people stay in safe places and do not cross flooded roads. We continue to work to save lives and property.”

The trend of wet and unsettled weather conditions was forecast to keep the risk of flooding between high and significant on the island through Wednesday night, and possibly extend into tonight, according to the National Weather Service.

Although a mid- to high-level high pressure system will gradually establish over the northeastern Caribbean, afternoon showers and thunderstorms were still expected today, especially in the interior and west of Puerto Rico.

Meanwhile, a drier air mass, possibly with dust from the Sahara, is expected to arrive by the weekend and may persist into next week.

Emergencies attended to Wednesday by first responders included the flooding of Ernesto Ramos Antonini School in the Pueblo neighborhood of Yauco, where rescuers removed 12 students to safety who had been reported missing from the 105 reported stranded due to flooding.

Those students were kept on the second floor of the school until they were able to get out and were reported to be in good shape.

Also on Wednesday, authorities reported the following shelters open: María Cadilla school in Arecibo; Los Quiñones community center in Yauco; the Ernestina Bracero and José Robles Otero schools, the Eneida Pinto Old School and the San José community center in Toa Baja.

Sections of several roads were closed due to landslides, such as: kilometer 4.8 of highway PR-567 in Morovis, kilometers 0.8 and 16.8 of highway PR-156 in Barranquitas, highway PR-164 in Naranjito, highway PR-146 in Utuado, kilometer 26.7 on highways PR-155 and PR-156 in Orocovis, kilometer 5 of highway PR-608 highway in Ciales, kilometer 38.2 of highway PR-128 in Lares, and highway PR-135 in Yauco. In addition, there were numerous flooded roads in various municipalities.

Meanwhile, several schools did not have face-to-face classes on Wednesday as a result of the impact of the rains in several municipalities, and the University of Puerto Rico Bayamón Campus was closed for the day.

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