‘We’re in the midst of the recovery process’
By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar
Special to The Star
Nine days after Hurricane Fiona’s passage through Puerto Rico, Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia said Tuesday that “we are in the midst of the recovery process” after what he called “historic flooding.”
During a press conference at the Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD by its Spanish acronym), the governor said “FEMA has activated individual assistance for all municipalities.”
“Already 495,000 people have registered for disaster relief,” he said. “We have also begun the public assistance claim process to restore essential services for our people. The federal government will be covering 100 percent of those eligible costs.”
Pierluisi also sent a letter to Congress “to achieve 100 percent coverage for the Vital plan [which administers Medicaid on the island]; primary nutritional assistance and aid to our farmers,” to which Puerto Rico has no access.
“I [also] sent a letter to President Biden with a copy to the U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security to request a waiver of the Jones Act to waive the [restrictions on] fuel imports necessary to address this emergency.”
The governor has been visiting 19 municipalities with heavy damage and assured those in attendance that “I sympathize with every family that has lost a family member, that has had damage to their homes, or that is in need.”
“We are doing everything to protect them, to reach out and assist them,” he said.
Orlando Olivera from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said that all 78 municipalities had been included in the declaration of federal assistance.
“It is important that all those that suffered damages register at disasterassistance.gov,” he said.
“We will have staff and people on the street helping people fill out the application,” the official added. “People must register to apply for assistance.”
PREPA Executive Director Josué Colón Ortiz said “the electrical system has been recovering at a dizzying pace; we have 3,012 megawatts of generation available; we have units available at all generating stations.”
“EcoEléctrica is fully in service, and AES is fully in service,” he said. “In Aguirre, there are four combined cycle units in service; Cambalache is fully in service; Mayagüez is in reserve. Toro Negro and Yauco are in service; we have six hydroelectric units in service.”
“I would like to thank the work team that since the hurricane and as of today has not stopped …” he added, visibly affected during the press conference.
When asked about it in the round of reporter questions, he made reference to the many people working nonstop away from their families.
Daniel Hernández, director of Renewable Energies at LUMA Energy, the operator of PREPA’s transmission and distribution system, warned that even though the mayors could have the best of intentions when they decide to energize power lines, “we want to remind you that electricity is not seen and not heard, but the day you touch electricity, lives will be lost.”
“Please, the message is to stay away from electrical infrastructure, lines, or stations,” he pleaded.
Hernández added that as of the late-afternoon press conference, “we have been able to energize 1,039,330 customers; we have added almost 110,000 customers since yesterday.”
“After a general outage, we’re up to 71 percent,” he said.
They expected to add 70,000 reenergized customers Tuesday night, including Aguadilla, Cabo Rojo, Guánica, Lares, Salinas, San Germán and Yauco.
For his part, Health Secretary Dr. Carlos Mellado López said that 65 of 70 hospitals are already energized. He also talked about the suspected cases of leptospirosis and assured reporters that they were being treated with antibiotics.
“If you have symptoms, go to the nearest CDT or hospital,” the Health secretary said. “Clean all surfaces with bleach, and boiled water that is not bottled.”
As for the deaths associated directly with the passage and aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, Mellado López said “we have 21 cases under surveillance, where we have one direct case [there could be more; they have to go to the Bureau of Forensic Sciences], and the other 20 cases are being reported.”
“There was a meeting with the president of the Medical Association, and it is important that the doctors fill out the certificates specifying the social determinants that could reflect deaths due to the hurricane,” he added.
Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewer Authority Executive President Doriel Pagán Crespo said that “as far as the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority service is concerned, we have 1.15 million customers with service.”
Education Secretary Eliezer Ramos Parés said the damage from Fiona to public schools was minimal, and there are still nine that are being used as shelters.
“Also, we have seen how delaying the start of school has impacted our children in a negative way, so we were asked to start classes,” he said. “Today 405 schools opened, and we had a great response. … We will keep moving to have 93% of schools open [today].”