SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello said on Friday that the death toll from last month’s devastating Hurricane Maria had risen to 36.
Rossello said the three-dozen fatalities on the United States commonwealth included people who were either directly or indirectly affected by the hurricane and reiterated that that figure could change once more information is available.
The governor said that during US Vice President Michael Pence’s visit to the island on Friday he would urge the US government to provide the federal aid Puerto Rico needs for its recovery.
“I want Pence to see the massive destruction and understand that it’s the most serious damage Puerto Rico has suffered in its history,” Rossello said.
The governor said he hoped Washington would fully fund the aid effort or that the island would be responsible for no more than 10 percent of the cost.
He said 10,000 Defense Department employees and 500 Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel were currently on the ground in Puerto Rico.
In terms of electrical service, which was completely wiped out when the hurricane pummeled the island on Sept. 20, Rossello said electricity had been restored to 10.7 percent of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) subscribers and that 55.5 percent of Puerto Rico Aqueducts and Sewers Authority customers now have potable water.
He added that 75 percent of supermarkets on the island were now open and that 78 percent of gasoline stations were operating.
Fifteen fuel trucks on Thursday reached towns in interior and mountainous areas that are facing critical shortages more than two weeks after the hurricane, according to Rossello, who said those shipments would be extended to other hard-hit areas in the coming days.
A total of 1,143 containers – or around 82 percent of the normal quantity – arrived by ship at the Port of San Juan on Thursday.
Rossello also referred to the critical situation at the PREPA-owned Guajacata dam, which is in danger of rupturing, and said people needed to remain on alert.
The US Army Corps of Engineers said on Monday that it was working in partnership with the US Defense Department and PREPA to slow the erosion of the damaged spillway at the dam, located in northwestern Puerto Rico.
“Keeping the spillway functional is important because it channels water around the dam when the water gets too close to the top of the dam,” USACE Public Affairs Officer Lisa Hunter said in a statement.
“This will be a two-phased operation to stabilize the spillway to prevent further deterioration. The 26th Marine Expedition Unit is placing approximately 350 concrete jersey barriers. Then, the Pennsylvania National Guard will place hundreds of ‘supersacks’ filled with sand to further reinforce this emergency action,” the statement read.