Failing dam forces gov’t scramble to evacuate 1000s in Puerto Rico, but many towns unreachable
As if Puerto Ricans weren’t already battered enough by Hurricane Maria, which has left most of the island’s population without electricity and hundreds of thousands of people without drinking water, authorities last night rushed to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam.
But they said they could not reach more than half the downstream towns:
Government spokesman Carlos Bermudez said that officials had no communication with 40 of the 78 municipalities on the island more than two days after the Category 4 storm crossed the island, toppling power lines and cellphone towers and sending floodwaters cascading through city streets.
Officials said 1,360 of the island’s 1,600 cellphone towers had been downed, and 85 percent of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may be worse than they know.
Tweeted warnings about the dam went mostly unseen by the people they were directed to. The National Weather Service wrote.”This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION.” “All the areas around the Guajataca River must evacuate NOW. Your lives are in DANGER.”
The 90-year-old, 120-foot-high hydroelectric dam impounds a human-made lake of about two square miles and has a capacity of 11 billion gallons of water. The dam’s floodgates were damaged by the hurricane, and the lake swelled when more than 15 inches of rain fell in the surrounding mountains after the Category 4 Maria left Puerto Rico Wednesday. Authorities said they had no idea of whether or when a crack in the dam might cause complete collapse.
The dam was just one of a boatload of issues left in the wake of the hurricane.
At last count, it had killed at least 13 people in Puerto Rico, and more than 20 in the Dominican Republic and the Turks and Caicos.
In addition to the immediate problems Puerto Ricans face, they also are confronted by what could be months without electricity. The New York Times reports:
Puerto Ricans are the first to say they can improvise — resolver — when a drought dries them up or a terrible storm knocks them down. But the idea of grappling long term without power hung like a pall over the island.
“This is really affecting me,” said Nina Rodriguez, a human resources manager in San Juan. “I have four children and the youngest is 6 months old. We are preparing for six months, maybe even a year without power.”
(Originally appeared at DailyKos.)