Hurricane Maria Hits Areas Still Recovering From Hurricane Irma
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
The Caribbean is hurting today. Hurricane Maria has hit the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico hard. The storm came at the islands with powerful force. And to make matters worse, it hit areas still recovering from Hurricane Irma. Earlier today, I spoke with Carlos Mercader. He is the Washington, D.C.-based representative for the governor of Puerto Rico. And I asked him, what could he tell us about the situation on the ground?
CARLOS MERCADER: We've got to understand that this is a historic storm. We haven't seen something like this ever - in the region or at least in the last a hundred years. So damages on the island - it's a devastation. The one thing that we're proud of is that we were prepared. And it's very difficult to basically do everything possible so that your infrastructure doesn't suffer. But the one thing that we were able to accomplish, which is saving lives - up until this day, we don't have any casualties...
CHANG: No deaths.
MERCADER: ...Out of the hurricane. So in that sense, you know, I don't know what's going to be ensuing within the next couple of days. But up until now, we don't have any casualties.
CHANG: Can you tell us how bad that damage is to property?
MERCADER: Yes, of course. Yeah - no, it's - well, OK. Two weeks ago, that the Irma - when it passed by Puerto Rico, the eye didn't go through the island.
MERCADER: But even though it basically jumped the island, the reality is that there were more than a billion dollars in losses in Puerto Rico - in damages. Right now, the eye of the storm entered through the northeastern part of the island. It went across the island. You know, a couple of hours ago, the eye left the island. So it was - the island was receiving winds - like, hurricane winds from 3 a.m. in the morning up until, like, 4 p.m., 6 p.m. in the evening.
MERCADER: Almost - it was too much. For too long, we were, you know, being hit with catastrophic conditions. So damages are going to be - you've got to multiply that billion by 10, 20 - I don't know.
CHANG: Well, we've heard reports that the entire island has lost power. Is that true?
MERCADER: That's right. That's right.
CHANG: The entire island?
MERCADER: The entire island, yeah, without electricity...
MERCADER: ...And 70 percent without water.
CHANG: Before the storm, we heard on our program from Puerto Rico's governor that the power grid was extremely fragile...
MERCADER: That's right.
CHANG: ...And that if it did go down, it could be months down. Is that going to be the case? Is Puerto Rico going to be going months without power?
MERCADER: I believe so. The...
MERCADER: Yes, yes. But it was that kind of a storm.
CHANG: But what happens to, say, hospitals? We heard today from an administrator of the children's hospital in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. And he told us that the hospital can survive for maybe three, four days on generator power. But after that, the situation could be catastrophic.
MERCADER: Yeah. So thankful...
CHANG: So how is that going to be managed?
MERCADER: Yeah. So thankfully, we've been planning for this. And we have a big number of brigades that are going to start working immediately only on the electric grids - right? - on the energy grids. Plus, we've been collaborating with FEMA, Department of Energy personnel and also with Army personnel that they are - right now, they have boots on the ground in Puerto Rico. So as soon as the rain stop, they're going to start working immediately on this because they all know that this is the main issue that we need to tackle, the electric - energy.
CHANG: That was Carlos Mercader. He's the Washington, D.C.-based representative for the governor of Puerto Rico.
Thank you very much for coming in and talking to us.
MERCADER: Yeah, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.