Puerto Rican officials are rushing to evacuate tens of thousands of people downstream of a failing dam in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. (Sept. 23)
A weakened dam that prompted a massive evacuation in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is holding and unlikely to threaten the lives of all 70,000 people ordered to relocate, local officials said.
Juan Morales Vegas, public security director in the town of Isabela, on Saturday said the the Guajataca dam in Quebradillas continues to hold despite reports of a fissure and partial breach, according to local paper El Vocero de Puerto Rico.
The National Weather Service in San Juan on Friday issued a warning that “all areas surrounding Guajataca River should evacuate NOW.”
Morales Vega said the evacuation is precautionary and affects all the people who depend on the water in the dam, not only those whose homes would be inundated.
“People are in the shelters of the Francisco Mendoza School, Gloria González and the Integral Youth Center,” Morales Vega said. “There is no break in the dam.
“It is not going to cover us completely as they are saying, but since nothing is impossible, we are mobilizing,” he added.
Carlos Román, the special assistant to the executive director of the Center for Emergency Management in Quebradillas, also told El Vocero that alerts for the towns of Isabela and Quebradillas were overblown.
Communities that would be in danger in Quebradillas have already been evacuated, Román said. And there is a risk that the bridge connecting the towns of Isabela and Quebradillas could be taken out in case of a dam rupture, he said.
The island’s Secretary of Public Affairs Ramon Rosario said about 300 families were in harm’s way, the Associated Press reported.
Farther east, residents in Toa Baja clambered onto rooftops Saturday as more than nine feet of water flowed through their streets as official sought to relieve pressure on a different dam.
Some residents waved or let out small cheers when they saw a convoy of Federal Emergency Management teams, including Virginia and Florida task force teams, riding in high-water vehicles operated by the Puerto Rican National Guard.
FEMA teams fanned out across flood-ravaged Toa Baja and other Puerto Rican communities hard hit by Maria in inflatable boats and high-water vehicles, searching for stranded residents. According to the Puerto Rican Emergency Management Agency, the coastal town 20 miles west of San Juan had 2,000 displaced residents and at least eight drownings.
As federal aid began to pour into the island, desperation was taking hold in some quarters, according to the AP.
In the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, a group of anxious mayors presented a long list of items they urgently need to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. The north coastal town of Manati had run out of fuel and fresh water, Mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez said.
“Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It’s at capacity,” Sanchez Gonzalez said, crying. “We need someone to help us immediately.”
Contributing: Rick Jervis, USA TODAY
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