On Tuesday, Sept. 26, President Donald J. Trump made additional disaster assistance available to Puerto Rico by authorizing an increase in the level of federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures — including emergency power restoration — for the U.S. territory after the damage inflicted by Hurricane Maria.
The president increased the federal government’s share of costs to 100 percent federal funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures, including direct federal assistance, for 180 days. The work will be authorized by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
President Trump said he will travel to Puerto Rico next Tuesday, Oct. 3, to survey first-hand the damage caused by Hurricane Maria. During a White House meeting with members of Congress about a tax plan he is working on, Trump said next Tuesday is the earliest date he can go to Puerto Rico, “without really disrupting first responders and the efforts that are being made to help people.”
“I know many Puerto Ricans, and these are great people, and we have to help them,” Trump said. “The island is devastated.”
Some have described the island as “literally destroyed,” the president said.
Puerto Rico “was hit as hard as you could hit,” he said, and the winds that came from Maria were so strong that they demolished houses. “It was like tornadoes,” he said. “It was like having hundreds of tornadoes.”
“We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico, and we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis,” the president said.
But, “It's very tough because it's an island,” he said. “In Texas, we can ship the trucks right out there.” To get to Puerto Rico, you must cross the ocean, then land at “an airport that has been devastated,” he said. “These runways are devastated and broken.”
Governor warned of humanitarian crisis
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello has been warning for the last few days of a humanitarian crisis in the U.S. territory.
“There needs to be unprecedented relief for Puerto Rico so that we can start the immediate effort right now,” Rossello said Tuesday on MSNBC.
The Caribbean island is home to more than 3.4 million U.S. citizens. Puerto Ricans have had little or no power since Hurricane Maria made a direct hit on the island as a Category 4 hurricane the morning of Sept. 20. Maria took all day to slowly pummel the island with winds of up to 155 miles per hour, and when the storm had finished, it left desolation behind, with powerlines flat on the ground, many houses and buildings ruined, and massive flooding.
There has been no electric power there since then, except in places that have generators, and fuel was reported to be very scarce for the generators. People who had generators were waiting in long lines to try to get fuel, according to news reports. Communications have been out, and there have been shortages of drinking water and food.
“We’re working very, very hard in Puerto Rico," and also "sending tremendous amounts of supplies to the Virgin Islands,” Trump said Sept. 26. He said he may visit the Virgin Islands as part of next week’s trip to Puerto Rico.
Mutual aid has arrived in US Virgin Islands
Mutual aid workers from the Western Area Power Administration arrived on St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands on Saturday, Sept. 23 and are working with crews from the Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority to energize the transmission system there, said Mike Hyland, the American Public Power Association’s senior vice president of engineering, on a conference call with mutual aid leaders on Monday afternoon. More mutual aid crews and equipment are expected to arrive in the Virgin Islands this week, he said.
In Puerto Rico, where communications systems are still down after Hurricane Maria ripped across the island on Sept. 20, “it has been a struggle understanding exactly what’s going on,” Hyland said, speaking from inside the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Response Coordination Center in Washington, D.C. The NRCC coordinates federal support for major emergencies.
The National Hurricane Center said on Tuesday that the center of Maria was expected to pass east of the North Carolina coast during the next couple of days. As of 11 a.m. on Tuesday, maximum sustained winds were near 75 mph with higher gusts. The storm was expected to weaken and to become a tropical storm by Tuesday night.
As of midday on Tuesday, Maria was still a large hurricane, with hurricane-force winds extending outward up to 105 miles from the center and tropical-storm-force winds extending outward up to 240 miles, the hurricane center said.
96% of electric customers have power back in Key West
Keys Energy Services, the public power utility in Key West, Florida, reported Tuesday that 96 percent of KEYS’ customers have had their power restored after widespread outages caused by Hurricane Irma earlier this month. Approximately 1,200 customers (4 percent) remained without power, the utility said.
Another public power utility, the Kissimmee Utility Authority in Kissimmee, Florida, said on Tuesday that its crews have returned home, concluding 11 days of power restoration work in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
At the height of Irma’s destruction, 38,000 — or 53 percent — of KUA’s 72,000 customers lost power, the utility said in a Sept. 26 news release, noting that Irma knocked out power to 6.5 million homes and businesses statewide after it hit on Sept. 10.
“KUA line crews, tree trimmers and support personnel moved quickly to rebuild and restore service to customers, with the assistance of mutual aid crews from Indiana, Minnesota, Texas and Wisconsin,” the utility said.
KUA restored power to its customers within 75 hours of the storm, and then moved its crews north where they spent three days assisting the Orlando Utilities Commission in Orlando, Florida. From there, the crews traveled west to Polk County, where they spent four days helping to restore power to customers of Lakeland Electric.
“Providing support to other utilities throughout the state and across the nation during natural disasters is one of the hallmarks of the electric utility industry,” said KUA President and General Manager Jim Welsh.
Hurricane Irma was the first major hurricane to make landfall in Florida since Wilma in 2005, said KUA spokesman Chris Gent.