Adrian Florido / NPR
Carlos Acevedo, Puerto Rico's director of Civil Protection, has been standing in front of reporters on Thursday at the lectern. Before Hurricane Maria, he said the island's government had not taken their hurricane response plans seriously enough.
"Before Maria it was very easy to update our plans," said Acevedo. "We would take the first and the last page, remove it, replace it with new pages, sign it, and there was the new plan."
It was no surprise then, Acevedo said, that the government's obsolete and recycled plan – written for a Category 1 hurricane – was utterly inadequate to guide its response after Hurricane Mary's category 4 storm hit the island last time September devastated.
"I'm very honest," continued Acevedo. "The plan did not say what we would do if the communication systems failed." What they did thwarted the government's ability to coordinate a response.
The reason he summoned reporters to the headquarters of the agency on the outskirts of San Juan was to learn that everything had changed. The agency was completing a process Acevedo had never done before. It had rewritten its hurricane response plan "from scratch."
Two weeks before the start of the hurricane season, local and federal officials in Puerto Rico are ready to reassure the islanders that the government is better prepared than ever (19659008) But on the island and especially in communities that are still From Hurricane Maria recover, many inhabitants are very skeptical.
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"Just look at my house," said Rafaela Serrano, who lives in a steep cul-de-sac in the Caguas community. Their roof is missing, the gaping hole is covered with a blue tarpaulin, the federal helper have installed shortly after the storm. Most homes in their neighborhood are still showing unrepaired damage eight months after the hurricane cracked roofs and extinguished windows. "Many people have not repaired their homes yet, so no, we're not prepared for another hurricane," Serrano said.
Nonetheless, officials insist that they are well prepared.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency says it has added four new warehouses across the island and filled them with millions of emergency meals and bottled water and tens of thousands of tarpaulins. Before Hurricane Maria, FEMA had only one camp on the island, which made the supply difficult. And in the coming weeks, the agency plans to provide additional supplies to each of the island's 78 communities so that mayors can respond immediately should their communities be cut off in a storm. FEMA encourages residents to create their own contingency plans and provide enough material for the last ten days.
Officials also said they had pre-positioned emergency generators in critical facilities such as police, fire departments and hospitals. And Sandra Torres, director of the agency responsible for telecommunications on the island, said that work is underway to prevent another total collapse of the island's communication systems. These include the installation of satellite communication systems in critical facilities and new radio antennas in more than 320 hospitals. She also said that more than 1000 miles of fiber optic cables had been buried underground.
"Undergrounding is so important," said Torres. "Not depending on the piles that belong to the utility, will help much because the weight of the cables has much to do with the collapse of this infrastructure."
One of the biggest concerns, of course, is the still fragile electricity grid. About 18,000 homes on the island are still waiting for power, and on Friday the last Federal Government Restoration crews hired by the federal government will pack up and go home, leaving the rest of the work to PREPA, the island's power company.
Puerto Rican non-voting member of the congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, wrote two urgent letters last week requesting that FEMA extend the contracts of these power troopers so that the remaining homes can be powered faster , But on Thursday, Michael Byrne, FEMA's chief officer in Puerto Rico, said no extension would be granted.
Byrne said the FEMA would, however, hold 700 emergency generators on the island, as well as the three massive generators attached to the
Despite all these preparations, Javier Solis said he was still worried.
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Solis operates a hardware store on the outskirts of San Juan. Every day he has customers inquiring about the wavy aluminum roof panels that Hurricane Maria has blown away from so many homes on the island. He still has trouble filling her, and if he does, they sell out within hours.
Solis also delivers.
"I drove to so many places on the island," said Solis, even in areas without electricity. "And I have seen so many houses without roofs, people who are still waiting for help, people who have no money for repairs, all of whom need the same but can not get."
Solis thinks Only so will Puerto Rico avoid further destruction by eluding another hurricane.
"Let's hope we do not get another," said Solis. "Because it's getting difficult, it's going to be difficult."