Still recovering, Puerto Rico faces down hurricane season


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Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., noted that Hurricane Maria has left approximately $90 billion in damages.

“We see only that $1 billion is for rebuilding the grid,” Soto said. “No surprise, we still see blackouts and people without power.”

Puerto Rico’s power grid, which was deficient before the storm, has not been fully restored nor updated. The 155 mph winds from Maria brought down the entire grid and the electrical system’s collapse prompted the world’s second-longest blackout.

The island’s debt-ridden and bankrupt power company had to activate a contingency plan that consisted of reducing power to energy reserves that handle generation failures, like the one that took place on Feb. 12 in northern Puerto Rico, in order to survive the disaster while avoiding running out of cash.

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During and after the storm, Puerto Rico saw the collapse of its communications system and delays in services and emergency response. The delays affected rescue missions as well as food and medical deliveries; it even affected the ability to call government helplines such as Línea PAS, a government-run suicide helpline, at a time when the island saw a 29 percent increase in suicides cases reported to Puerto Rico’s Department of Health.

Puerto Rican officials have stated they have learned from these mistakes.

Ahead of a next catastrophe, local officials have said that police stations, emergency management centers, fire stations and hospital crews are equipped with 100-watt radios in order to communicate during a futuree emergency. Local authorities will also be significantly increasing the amount of stocked supplies and expand storage space to house 12 times more water, 7 times more food and 130 emergency generators in towns across the island.

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One of the biggest lessons from Hurricane Maria was the key role of local nonprofits and community groups, which acted like first responders when Puerto Rico’s government could not reach nor communicate with vast sectors of the island.

Frankie Miranda, senior vice president of the Hispanic Federation, which is part of the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition, said on Tuesday that his organization and others have been working with local groups to put contingency plans in place ahead of a future storm.

“If something happens on June 1st, they will be the ones to respond,” said Miranda, referring to local community groups.

In the U.S., Archila said that groups in the Power 4 Puerto Rico coalition are mobilizing Puerto Ricans in different states to put pressure on their government representatives.

“Elected officials who represent Puerto Rican communities in the U.S. should feel the heat,” Archila said. “They are not paying attention, and we’re working hard to change that.”

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