Puerto Rico's electrical grid was so decimated by last year's Hurricane Maria that even a relatively minor storm in the upcoming hurricane season could have devastating consequences, officials told The Associated Press on Thursday.
Despite a $3.8 billion effort to restore the grid, Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello said it remains "highly fragile and vulnerable" and could be damaged even more severely than before.
This year's hurricane season starts in June, and is sure to bring turbulent weather to the island of 3.3 million citizens, but even a minor storm could become serious as a result of the poor restoration efforts. "Even if it's a [Category 1]" storm, the grid is "going to lose power. I don't know for how long," Puerto Rico's public safety commissioner told AP.
Puerto Rico is still reeling from Hurricane Maria, which new research estimates led to more than 4,500 deaths. Federal officials say the recovery effort was the biggest in history, but local lawmakers dispute the claim that FEMA and other agencies did efficient work to get the island back up and running. Officials are bracing for the upcoming hurricane season, warning Puerto Ricans to gather supplies and prepare to survive for up to 10 days without help. Read more at The Associated Press. Summer Meza
Local officials in Puerto Rico are holding up new research as evidence that the government dismissed their very valid concerns about the effects of Hurricane Maria.
A new Harvard University study published in the New England Journal of Medicine estimated that more than 4,500 were killed in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, which pummeled the island last year. The official death count is just 64, which has been contested for months given the fact that much of the island still lacks power.
Federal government officials aren't backing down from the official death toll, NBC News reports, withholding further judgment until a commissioned study is finished later this year. But local lawmakers are glad that institutions like Harvard are backing what they've been saying for months — that the devastating effects of the hurricane have been severely underestimated.
"This is what I've been screaming at the top of my lungs," said San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who donned a cap reading "4,645" on Wednesday to bring attention to the new estimate. Yulín Cruz also pointed at President Trump, blaming the administration's "inefficiency" for allowing Puerto Ricans to die. NBC News reports that Ortiz Velázquez, the mayor of Cayey, also tried to "warn" island officials that the death count was likely astronomical compared to the official toll.
But federal officials, including the White House, aren't accepting the new estimate as proof that the disaster response was insufficient. Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Wednesday said that the government responded to the hurricane with the largest FEMA relief effort in history, not commenting on the number of Puerto Ricans who died in the following months. Read more at NBC News. Summer Meza