Governor signs emergency order following flooding caused by record-setting rains
By John McPhaul
Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia signed Executive Order (OE by its Spanish initials) 2023-032 on Sunday declaring a state of emergency in the municipalities of San Juan, Guaynabo and Loíza due to flooding caused by ongoing heavy rain that set a daily record for October last Friday.
“In the wake of the heavy rainfall activity that Puerto Rico faced on October 27, 2023, the National Weather Service [NWS] issued a flash flood warning for several municipalities. Downpour activity was concentrated in the northern and northwestern sectors,” the OE states. “Particularly, in the San Juan area, a record daily maximum rainfall of 5.20 inches was recorded. [The] torrential rains caused flooding, sinkholes and landslides in several towns. The Government of Puerto Rico has a constitutional responsibility to safeguard public order, and protect the life, property, and safety of all its residents.”
Through the OE, the governor authorizes the island public safety (DPS) secretary, Alexis Torres Ríos, to add to the emergency declaration any other municipality that he deems necessary.
In addition, Pierluisi directed the DPS secretary, who is the State Coordinating Officer, to proceed with the necessary coordination to accept and use the federal assistance provided in response to requests generated by the Government of Puerto Rico and its municipalities. The emergency declaration meets the requirements for the General Services Administration (GSA), agencies, and municipalities to activate special emergency procurement procedures to procure essential materials and services to respond to the emergency.
“The DSP will prepare and present to the governor, the director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the secretary of the Department of Treasury, and the director of the Puerto Rico Financial Advisory Authority and Fiscal Agency (AAFAF) an estimate of the funds required to carry out the evacuation, rescue, response, and recovery work in the affected regions,” the OE indicates. “The foregoing will include those expenses incurred so far and those that will be incurred to carry out the aforementioned work.”
Once the estimate is made and submitted by the DPS, both the Treasury secretary and the OMB director will allocate the available funds to the agencies and municipalities they identify to comply with the provisions of the executive order.
Article 5.10 of Act 20-2017, as amended, known as the “Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety Act,” empowers the governor to declare a state of emergency on the island.
In addition to the flooding after Friday’s record-setting rains, flash flooding and thunderstorms occurred in San Juan, as well as in the central, inland, southeastern and northern areas of Puerto Rico.
Meanwhile, rip currents were particularly strong along the northern, western and eastern coasts of the island, and authorities closed the public beach in Carolina because of dangerous conditions.
Unsettled weather conditions are forecast to continue early this week due to the interaction of an upper trough and a broad surface trough, followed by the arrival of an easterly disturbance. Flooding in urban areas and small streams, flash flooding, and landslides in areas of steep terrain remain likely.
A flash flood watch remains in effect today and may be extended.
The maximum daily rainfall record noted in the OE was set at the San Juan Area station last Friday, making it the rainiest day in October since records began in 1898, according to NWS.
“A daily rainfall high of 5.20 inches was recorded in the San Juan, Puerto Rico area [Friday]. This breaks the previous record of 1.64 inches set on October 27, 1941,” the NWS said. “This record for maximum daily rainfall is also the highest for any October day in the San Juan … area since records began in November 1898. The next highest amount of rainfall recorded for any October day in the San Juan … area was 4.35 inches on Oct. 6, 1970, the federal agency established.