Puerto Ricans desperate for water after Hurricane Fiona disaster

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CAGUAS, Puerto Rico (TBEN) – More than half a million people in Puerto Rico were left without water three days after Hurricane Fiona hit U.S. soil, and many spent hours in lines Wednesday filling pitchers from water trucks, while others ran out of water. the runoff from the mountain.

Sweat rolled down the faces of people in a long line of cars in the northern mountain town of Caguas, where the government had sent a water truck, one of at least 18 so-called “oases” set up across the island.

The situation was maddening for many people on an island who had left again without basic services after a storm.

“We thought we had a bad experience with Maria, but this was worse,” Gerardo Rodríguez said in the southern coastal town of Salinas, referring to the 2017 hurricane that killed nearly 3,000 and destroyed the island’s electrical grid.

Fiona poured about two feet of rain onto parts of Puerto Rico before flying over the eastern Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

According to the US National Hurricane Center, the storm had swelled to a Category 4 strength.

The storm devastated Puerto Rico’s electrical grid, which had been repaired but never completely rebuilt after Maria caused a power outage that lasted 11 months in some places.

A man points to a house that collapsed on Wednesday, September 21, 2022 by Hurricane Fiona at Villa Esperanza in Salinas, Puerto Rico.

Alejandro Granadillo via The Bharat Express News

In Caguas, the air conditioning in Emayra Veguilla’s car was not working, so the bus driver put a small fan on the passenger seat. She had previously sung the song “Hijos del Canaveral” (“Sons of the Sugarcane Field”), written by Puerto Rican hip-hop star René Pérez as an ode to Puerto Rico and the courage of its people.

“I needed a helping of patriotism,” she said. “I needed strength to do this again.”

Veguilla had been waiting in line on Tuesday but was told the water had run out and another truck wouldn’t be available until Wednesday.

Some people for Veguilla gave up and drove off, with tensions running high the longer people waited.

“Movement!” shouted a driver, afraid of people trying to break in.

Some who saw the line chose instead to drive to a nearby highway where fresh water trickled down the mountainside through a bamboo pipe someone had installed.

Greg Reyes, an English teacher, stood in line in muddy slippers to fetch water for himself, his girlfriend and their cat. He had brought a large bag containing all the empty containers he could find in their house, including more than a dozen small water bottles.

Reyes said he and his partner had bought water since Fiona struck, but could no longer afford it.

“But I think I’m leaving again,” he said, shaking his head.

Those in line grumbled at the slow pace of the recovery, accusing the government of not helping them, as people on social media and even a gym said their doors were open to anyone who needed water or a shower.

“This has not been easy,” said Juan Santos, a retiree who held the hand of his 5-year-old grandson. “We suffer.”

None of those in line also had power, and many wondered if the recovery would take as long as it did with Hurricane Maria.

Power company officials initially said it would take a few days for electricity to be restored, but appeared to be back on Tuesday evening, saying they were facing numerous obstacles.

“Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted electrical infrastructure and generation facilities across the island. We want to make it very clear that efforts to recover and regenerate energy continue and are affected by severe flooding, impassable roads, fallen trees, deteriorating equipment and downed pipes,” said Luma, the company that manages energy transmission and distribution. .

Officials said crews found several substations underwater and inaccessible.

But Luma said it expected to restore power to much of Puerto Rico’s north coast on Wednesday, largely sparing Fiona.

The hum of generators could be heard all over the territory as people became more and more irritated.

The head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday and the agency announced it would send hundreds of additional personnel to boost local response. On Wednesday, US President Joe Biden approved a major disaster declaration, which would allow for more federal aid.

Meanwhile, the United States Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and dispatched several teams to the island.

In the Turks and Caicos, officials reported relatively minor damage and no deaths, although the eye of the Category 4 storm passed close to Grand Turk, the capital island of the small British territory, on Tuesday.

“Turks and Caicos have had a phenomenal experience in the past 24 hours,” said Vice Governor Anya Williams. “It certainly came with its share of challenges.”

Officials said the school on Grand Turk would reopen next week.

According to the Hurricane Center, Fiona had a maximum sustained wind of 215 km/h at the end of Wednesday. It was centered about 885 kilometers southwest of Bermuda and headed north at 10 mph (17 kph).

Fiona killed a man in the French overseas department of Guadeloupe and two others in Puerto Rico, swept away by swollen rivers. Two died in the Dominican Republic: one killed by a falling tree and the other by a falling utility pole.

Two more deaths have been reported in Puerto Rico as a result of the blackout: a 70-year-old man burned to death after trying to fill his running generator with gasoline and a 78-year-old man said he inhaled poisonous gases from his body, police said. generator.

The Bharat Express News journalists Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez and Alejandro Granadillo contributed to this report.

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