By: Hadley Bjerke, News Editor
People in the ravaged city of Arecibo, Puerto Rico get their drinking water from a hole poked into a fire hose attached to a street hydrant. No one has power and they haven’t heard from the outside world in four days, when Hurricane Maria barreled through here early Wednesday, smashing homes and sending walls of water through town. Now residents here face a new peril: the Guajataca Dam, which was threatening to breach and could send more floods their way.
“Unfortunately, we’re right in its path,” said Kevin Azzaro, an assistant to Mayor Carlos Molina here.Azzaro said he didn’t know how the city could prepare for more floods, other than asking residents to stay in their homes as much as possible. Residents here were desperate for news from the dam. However, with no phone service or Internet access anywhere, they relied on bits of news relayed from other residents or city officials. “The first thing we need is patience,” resident Oscar Perez said. “All of Puerto Rico is like this. We gain nothing from being desperate.”
Arecibo, on the northern coast and about 80 miles west of San Juan, was one of the last populated cities Maria visited before leaving the island. It also sits very near to where the storm’s eye passed over and received some of its more destructive winds. But residents here say it’s the floodwaters that really ravaged the city, rising up to 10 feet in some places. Cities such as Arecibo are feeling some of the sharpest pain in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, since its farther afield from San Juan and hardest for aid and supplies to reach. The storm dealt a devastating blow to the entire island, from Humacao in the southeast to Arecibo in the northwest. Like in dozens of other destroyed towns across the island, people here say their main needs are water, fuel, power — and news from the outside world. “No power, no water, no information,” said Eileen Alcaide, 36, whose home and natural gas distribution business got 8 feet of water. “We only have mud.”
On Sunday, FEMA officials in San Juan were replacing search-and-rescue teams, some of which had worked three weeks straight as a string of strong storms left disaster zones across the Western Hemisphere. Over the past few days, reconnaissance teams had fanned out across Puerto Rico’s coastal cities, such as Toa Baja and Ponce, and were now shifting their focus to the interior of the country, said Karl Lee, of FEMA’s Incident Support Command. Virginia Task Force 1, a search-and-rescue team attached to FEMA, on Saturday made a helicopter flyover of the island of Culebra, about 20 miles off Puerto Rico’s east coast, and assessed it had survived the storm fairly well.
Crews were working on power lines, people were visible on the streets, and some residents were even mowing their lawns, said Rob Schoenberger, who led the mission. No visible mass destruction or casualties, he said. “If the power company’s already out there, that tells you something,” he said. In Arecibo, residents cleaned out mud from flooded homes and wondered how long it will take to get power back. At a shopping center near the highway, residents lined up to fill plastic gallon jugs with fresh water spraying from a hole in a fire hose.