Worry in Puerto Rico as Hurricane Irma nears

People rushed to stores in Puerto Rico on Tuesday, emptying shelves of food and water as worry set in ahead of Hurricane Irma’s expected impact Wednesday on the US territory.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in preparation.

Those living on the commonwealth braced for the hurricane’s potentially devastating winds and deluge, fearing if the Category 5 storm knocks out power from the bankrupt island’s weakened electrical system, it may take weeks or months before power is restored.

“It (power) is something absolutely necessary, especially due to Puerto Rico’s weather. We need to have the A/C or a fan on all night,” a woman told CNN affiliate WAPA.

Last month, the director of Puerto Rico’s power utility, Ricardo Ramos Rodríguez, said several factors have made the island’s electric system “vulnerable and fragile,” WAPA reported.

One of those is the shortage of employees. Many workers recently retired or left their jobs for better prospects on the US mainland, Ramos Rodríguez said.

Gov: Irma ‘compares to no other weather system’

Hurricane Irma is churning toward the northeastern Caribbean. The forecast has it hitting around Antigua and Barbuda, St. Kitts and Nevis, and Anguilla by late Tuesday or early Wednesday, before impacting the British and US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico later that afternoon.

The storm’s path is uncertain but Florida is also bracing for Irma’s impact.

In a letter to President Donald Trump, Rosselló asked for federal assistance. The governor also asked the President to declare a state of emergency.

“Hurricane Irma’s magnitude compares to no other weather system in the recorded history of Puerto Rico,” Rosselló wrote. “Thus, the required assistance is crucial to lessen its impact on the island.”

Government officials have identified more than 450 shelters across the island for citizens in flood-prone areas, the governor wrote.

‘We’re used to earthquakes’

In San Juan, things were calm, barely a breeze rustling through palm trees as people stood in long lines at a Sam’s Club, stocking up on water and gas canisters.

“We’ve never been through anything like this. We’re used to earthquakes,” said Yolie Goodman, who moved from Hermosa Beach, California, to Playa de Naguabo with her husband, Ron.

The retires had already shored up their home by putting up storm covers.

Joanna Martinez, who was also in line at the Sam’s Club, said she finally found a store that still had water after trying a few stores.

Martinez, who has an 11-year-old and a 14-year-old, said she is worried about Irma’s impact.

Public schools and officials at the University of Puerto Rico campuses have canceled classes, and many businesses are closed.

“Make a U-turn and die in the ocean, Irma. The Caribbean islands don’t need more problems!” Twitter user mujertropical wrote about the storm.

Puerto Rico’s financial crisis

Puerto Rico could see natural devastation as it struggles with its own economic disaster.

The country’s economy has declined over the years because of government overspending, a heavy dependence on debt and a costly, inefficient energy system. In May, the financial crises led the commonwealth to file the largest municipal bankruptcy in US history.

The US territory has $74 million in debt and another $50 million in pension obligations on the books.

Rosselló said the country has money ready in case of an emergency, despite the economic conditions. There is $15 million for an emergency fund set aside in the island’s budget, officials said.

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