SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Puerto Rico's governor said Tuesday that his administration has adopted new measures to better prepare for a disaster like Hurricane Maria although he warned of limitations given the U.S. territory's economic crisis.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said two warehouses filled with water and food are operating in the island's north and south coasts, and that another two will open soon. Prior to Maria, there were none.
He also said the government now has lists that identify vulnerable populations, including those who live in nursing homes, something considered key given that many of the estimated 2,975 people who died as a result of Maria were elderly people. In addition, five direct emergency lines have been installed in nursing homes and other places.
"The people of Puerto Rico should know that there have been significant changes," Rossello said.
He said there are plans to buy 168 generators for Puerto Rico's water and sewer company, which is still relying on several generators given the ongoing power outages nearly a year after Maria destroyed Puerto Rico's power grid.
Crews also have installed satellite communication systems in several hospitals and all of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities, and placed nearly half of 500 miles worth of optic fiber underground, Rossello said.
But problems persist nearly a year after the Category 4 storm hit. Ten municipalities still have intermittent internet and phone service, said Sandra Torres, president of the island's telecommunications regulatory board. And nearly 60,000 households across Puerto Rico still don't have a proper roof capable of withstanding a Category 1 storm, said Fernando Gil, the island's housing secretary.
"Significant obstacles still remain," Rossello said, acknowledging that emergency protocols in place prior to Maria were inadequate. "That was the reality. It wasn't only us. The federal government was not prepared for that kind of storm."
However, Rossello's administration has not made public a government emergency response plan that officials revised after Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico is currently facing the peak of hurricane season, with Tropical Storm Isaac expected to drop heavy rain as it passes south of the island between Thursday and Friday.