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Less than two years after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico, Tropical Storm Dorian is bearing down on the island. Much of the territory’s infrastructure, including its power grid and water systems, is still recovering from Maria -- and is thus vulnerable to a hit from another strong storm. Judy Woodruff talks to Danica Coto of the Associated Press about what the government and residents are doing to prepare.
Puerto Rico is under hurricane watch late today, as Tropical Storm Dorian bears down on the island. Residents and government agencies are again bracing themselves for the blow, just under two years since Hurricane Maria ravaged the island, leaving much of its power grid, water systems, and other infrastructure in tatters.
For a look at how the island's government is preparing and its citizens are stocking up and hunkering down, we turn to Danica Coto of the Associated Press.
Danica, hello again to you. Thank you for joining us.
So, what is the very latest that the Hurricane Center is saying about this storm?
They adjusted the forecast a little bit. So, now the storm will be also affecting the central part of Puerto Rico, as well as the southwest region, and heavy rain is also expected along the north coast.
Are they saying how strong a storm they expect it to be?
It remains near hurricane string. So, at least, since the last couple of days, that has been downgraded a bit.
At the beginning, they were forecasting it as a small — a Category 1 hurricane. Now it's supposed to be near hurricane strength.
And what are people on the island doing to prepare?
There's some people that are still doing last-minute preparations. There's some shelves that have been stripped of water. But there's still a lot of supplies island-wide. They're buying food. They're buying diesel, not only for generators, but for their cars.
They're also securing pieces of things that now are serving as roofs. And those who have blue tarps as roofs are seeking shelter.
And what about the government? You have, what, a new governor. She's only been in office about three weeks.
How is the — is the Puerto Rican government preparing?
Well, Wanda Vazquez, the new governor, had her first press conference on Dorian last night. And she read from about a document of nine pages outlining exactly everything that government agencies are doing and how they're better equipped this time around compared to Hurricane Maria.
Among the equipment that she listed, she noted that the power company has about $122 million worth of inventory, compared to the roughly $22 million that was available during Hurricane Maria. She also spoke of a lot of generators, 100-watt radios, in addition to other equipment that the government has bought since the Category 4 storm struck.
So what she's saying is that they are better prepared than they were for Maria, which was, what, September of 2017?
She said that new equipment has been bought, the communications has improved, that they have learned their lesson from Hurricane Maria and that, this time I'm around, they will be better prepared.
But we also know, Danica, there was a lot of damage done on the island to the infrastructure. How much is that affecting the ability of Puerto Rico to prepare for another hurricane?
Well, there's still about 30,000 homes that have blue tarps as roofs, and that's nearly two years after Maria. And officials noted that about 9,000 to 13,000 of those are located in the region where the storm is expected to impact.
In addition to the blue roofs, there's also power outages. In some areas, it's nearly daily. In others, it's about weekly. But, overall, the power grid remains unstable. And many people worry that, even though it's not a hurricane coming our way, the tropical-storm-force winds and the heavy rains will lead to power outages.
And what happens to those people who do live in the houses with the very flimsy roofs, as you say, the blue tarps? Where do they go?
That's a good question.
Some of them are seeking shelter. Others are deciding to stay with neighbors or with friends. But a lot of them are worried about the aftermath. Their roofs are still leaking, even with a minor rainstorm.
And so the — Dorian is expected to dump between three to six inches of rain, up to eight inches in isolated areas. And they just worry about the future of the homes that they have tried to rebuild after Maria.
And what about overall? What are the people you talk to saying about, here we go, here's another storm? How concerned are they?
They're very concerned.
One person I interviewed this morning said: We're all prepared. We bought our food, we bought our water, we bought fuel for the generators, for those who can afford them, he says, but, in the end, it's mostly in the hands of the government.
And many of them feel that the government failed them back in 2017. And they're worried about another failure this time around, despite Governor Wanda Vazquez assuring people that they are well-prepared, that they have better equipment, better communication, and that the storm will not be obviously as strong as Maria, but that they're all on alert and that the people will be well-protected.
Well, we are certainly going to continue to follow this, to report on it in the hours and the days to come. And in the meantime, we certainly wish all the people of Puerto Rico the very best.
Danica Coto with the Associated Press, thank you.
Thank you very much.
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