SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico was taking all possible measures Tuesday to ward off a possible catastrophe from the arrival of Hurricane Irma, which, as it was about to hit the Lesser Antilles in the Caribbean, strengthened to a maximum Category 5, which motivated a request for the US to declare a state of emergency.
Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello had spent days telling people about the danger of the weather phenomenon, expected for Wednesday and which on Tuesday will hit some small Caribbean islands, recalling Hurricanes Hugo (1989) and Georges (1998). Both devastated this island that now hopes to avoid another such disaster with a tactic of previous preparation.
The governor therefore asked Washington ahead of time for the millions of dollars in aid that will be needed if Irma hits Puerto Rico directly, some of whose infrastructures are not in the best condition.
Government agencies will begin within hours to evacuate coastal areas susceptible to flooding, after warning residents that the police will take action against all who refuse to leave their homes.
The government’s concern is that people in easily inundated areas or who live in flimsy houses might refuse to leave their homes even as the most powerful hurricane ever recorded in the area approaches.
Irma has strengthened to a Category 5 hurricane with maximum sustained winds up to 285 kph (177 mph) as it approaches the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico, according to the latest advisory from the US National Hurricane Center (NHC).
The director of the state-run Electric Energy Authority, Ricardo Ramos, acknowledged that the company is not sufficiently prepared for a storm of this magnitude, and if it finally hits the island directly, some of its areas will not recover electricity for at least three months.
The government hasn’t wished to leave anything to the last minute, so classes in schools and universities have been suspended, public servants are staying home and people are packing supermarkets to stock up on food.
San Juan’s Luis Muñoz Marin International Airport remains in operation, but flights to the Lesser Antilles are canceled, though flights to the US and the rest of the world continue.
The Department of Consumer Affairs (Daco) froze the prices of basic items, gasoline and in general all goods that could be vital for seeing locals through a storm of this magnitude.
Supermarkets and other stores, meanwhile, are getting a large number of hoarders, and as a result water and canned foods are getting scarce.
The magnitude of Hurricane Irma has led to the canceling of all kinds of public activities and even to the closing of movie theaters.