Officials tally up damage as Puerto Ricans pick up the pieces after hurricane

TOA BAJA, Puerto Rico (AP) — City worker Carmen Medina deliberately walked through the working-class community of Tranquility Village in the harsh sun, with a clipboard, survey forms and a pen in her hand — making part of a small army of officials trying to assess the extent of the disaster caused by Hurricane Fiona on Puerto Rico.

She stopped in a white, seafoam greenhouse and asked the owner to detail his losses in the storm that had flooded much of Toa Baja City.

“Oh dear,” replied Margarita Ortiz, a 46-year-old housekeeper who stood in a home that was nearly barren because so many flood-damaged possessions had already been thrown away.

Pockets of water were still gushing from her ceiling Friday in what had been a newly painted house, and Ortiz listed what she could remember of her lost furniture and other belongings.

After staying in a shelter and with a friend for days, she hopes to soon return to her home: “When you lose your bed, you lose your mind.

LOOK: How Puerto Ricans are coping in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona

Fiona battered southwest Puerto Rico with winds of 85 mph (140 km/h) on September 18 and the broad storm triggered flooding across the island, which had still not recovered from the 2017’s Hurricane Maria, a more powerful cyclone that swept across US territory obliterating the power grid, which had since been patched but not fully rebuilt.

The Puerto Rico government said it expects to have a preliminary damage estimate from Fiona in about two weeks.

As of Sunday, about half of Puerto Rico’s 1.47 million electricity consumers remained in the dark, and 20% of the 1.3 million water consumers had no service as workers struggled to reach submerged electrical substations and repairing broken lines.

Power company officials said on Sunday that 1.1 to 1.3 million customers could have power by Friday, September 30, but warned that those estimates could change. They didn’t say when the whole island would be powered.

“(Fiona) affected all of our infrastructure. We are doing everything we can to fix it,” said Lawrence Kazmierski, senior vice president of Luma, the company that took over the island’s power transmission and distribution more than a year ago.

Gas stations, grocery stores and other businesses temporarily closed due to lack of fuel for generators. The National Guard first sent fuel to hospitals and other critical infrastructure.

“We’re starting from scratch,” said Carmen Rivera as she and his wife mopped up the water and threw away their damaged appliances, adding to the piles of rotting furniture and soggy mattresses that lined their street.

Despite being on the other side of the island from where Fiona’s eye made landfall, Toa Baja was particularly affected because the Plata River – Puerto Rico’s longest – overflowed its banks. in the city of more than 74,000 inhabitants.

Floodwaters exceeded the 5-foot mark in Rivera’s wood and concrete house. She wondered if she could get financial help, and when.

“I work for the municipality and what I earn is not ‘wow’,” she said.

Toa Baja officials estimated it could take a month to complete their door-to-door investigation to determine the damage so people can get financial help.

READ MORE: How to Help Hurricane Fiona Victims in Puerto Rico

For some, it was more than just a financial loss, as people also took the opportunity to describe their stress.

“I see emotional exhaustion in people. It’s a “here we go again,” said Gretchen Hernández, a social worker who was overseeing the citywide investigation.

Many have been forced to throw food away due to power outages – and some people have been helping their neighbours.

More than two dozen cars lined up at Toa Baja, where Aida Villanueva was distributing food to other members of the community – grapes, croissants, chicken, rice, vegetables, etc.

Seventy-four-year-old Ana Butter arrived before dawn for a chance to eat, complaining about the lack of official help.

“Nobody stopped by my house,” said Butter, who lives in the nearby town of Dorado.

Someone in line wondered aloud what those without electricity were going to do with so much free chicken. Another shouted: “Tomorrow there will be a barbecue! and the crowd laughed.

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