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Trump declares major disaster in Puerto Rico from hurricane

September 10, 2017 at 5:23 PM EDT
President Donald Trump on Sunday declared a major disaster in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Irma hit the island, opening up federal assistance to the U.S. territory and its more than 3 million residents. Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean before making landfall in Florida early Sunday. Puerto Rico's Gov. Ricardo Rosselló joins Hari Sreenivasan to talk about the hurricane's impact.
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HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR: Before hitting Florida, Hurricane Irma swept through the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico, the island that’s home to 3.5 million U.S. citizens. The storm destroyed hundreds of homes and caused power outages for three-quarters of the island’s residents, though power is gradually being restored. Irma is also blamed on at least three deaths in Puerto Rico.

Joining me now via Skype to talk about the impact is the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello.

Thanks for joining us.

First off, let’s get an update. How bad has it been? You’ve had a couple of days to take a look at the damage.

GOVERNOR RICARDO ROSSELLO, PUERTO RICO: Yes, luckily, Hari, we have prepared for this event. We’ve been preparing for five months for a catastrophic event in Puerto Rico, establishing the protocols, making sure we have onus for every one of the work streams that have to be implemented.

SREENIVASAN: So, how long is that going to take? Let’s take power for instance. That’s one o the things that people have been concerned about. How does the electric grid get back up and running?

ROSSELLO: Well, we’ve been making strides. Our energy infrastructure, it’s no secret, is very weak. Since we came into office about eight months ago, we have been working on plans to establish investments so that we can have new infrastructure that produces reliable and competitive energy.

I have to give credit to the public workers and the utilities. They’ve been making great strides. And we’re talking close to 750,000 people that didn’t have electricity when the hurricane hit. Now, electricity has been restored and every day gradually, we have been making strides. Of course, to make a final determination, you know, some of the infrastructure we have to see how critical the damage was done.

The — so, that assessment is going on right now, with — you know, with our agencies and with the federal government as well.

SREENIVASAN: I know the White House has sent out a declaration of disaster for Puerto Rico. How much money are you going to be needing and asking for especially considering FEMA is going to be getting requests from Texas and Florida, as well?

ROSSELLO: Yes, well, you know, the federal government has been moving along, passing an aid bill asking for both Harvey and Irma and, of course, we are going to be part of that. Again, we want to be — we want to rebuild Puerto Rico, but we also want to be part of the solution. That’s why we’ve been making efforts to help out, some of our fellow U.S. citizens that were stranded in the U.S. Virgin Islands and were stranded in San Martin, Puerto Rico is in a good position to push forward.

SREENIVASAN: So, how many days do you say it will be until Puerto Rico is back up to 100 percent, if the lights are on, if the businesses are open again?

ROSSELLO: Right. So, I can tell you certain things. Tomorrow, most of the university system starts. We expect the school system not to start tomorrow, but in the next coming days. And all teachers and public employees will go to the schools so that they can assess the damage.

SREENIVASAN: Also, I’ve been seeing reports of some of your hospitals have been generating or operating on less than 100 percent, several of your schools still lack access to clean water. How do those things gets back up and running?

ROSSELLO: Well, critical for us right now is to get water running for everybody. So, at our peak, we have 33 percent of the people without water in Puerto Rico. Right now, it’s about 7 percent.

The main reason is, it’s combined with the energy supply, to put water through. So, it’s been a priority for the energy corporation to make sure that water can flow through and as well to make sure that we power our hospitals.

So, in the onset of this event, we had about half the hospitals working on generators. Now, we have only about 8 percent to 9 percent of them working on generators.

SREENIVASAN: Is there a dollar figure that you’ve come up with on the impact that Irma has had on Puerto Rico so far?

ROSSELLO: Well, right now, we are in that process. After I’m done here, I’m going to a few of the municipalities to assess the damage with the mayors and with the federal government so that we can get an expedited answer on how many of the municipalities qualify as a disaster area.

The president has already declared a few of our municipalities disaster areas, and probably some more will be shortly announced as well.

SREENIVASAN: All right. Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, thanks so much.

ROSSELLO: Thank you. Thank you so much.

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