Hurricane Irma's Impact On Puerto Rico NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks to Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto about the impact of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico as one of the strongest-ever storms in the Atlantic gets closer to the island.

Hurricane Irma's Impact On Puerto Rico

Hurricane Irma's Impact On Puerto Rico

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NPR's Mary Louise Kelly speaks to Associated Press reporter Dánica Coto about the impact of Hurricane Irma in Puerto Rico as one of the strongest-ever storms in the Atlantic gets closer to the island.


We are following the progress this morning of one of the most powerful Atlantic Ocean hurricanes ever recorded as it tracks toward South Florida. This morning on NBC, Florida Governor Rick Scott called on people in evacuation zones to get moving.


RICK SCOTT: People are leaving the Keys right now, so we've got to continue to do that. We started evacuation in Miami-Dade, so we'll continue to follow this. But the big thing is, on both coasts - everybody has to understand - this thing could move. Hurricanes move. We've seen that in the past, so it could still impact the west coast.

KELLY: Irma is a Category 5 storm. It has already caused death and destruction on several Caribbean islands. Gaston Browne is the prime minister of Antigua and Barbuda. Here he is describing the scene on the island of Barbuda.


PRIME MINISTER GASTON BROWNE: What I saw was heart-wrenching, I mean, absolutely devastating.

KELLY: But in Puerto Rico, many are breathing a sigh of relief. The worst of the storm appears to have passed it by. This morning, Puerto Rico's governor began a press conference saying, quote, "We would like to start out thanking the Almighty. Our prayers were answered."

AP reporter Danica Coto is in Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. Good morning.

DANICA COTO: Good morning.

KELLY: Good morning. Start with where you are. What does it look like? What is the scene in Puerto Rico?

COTO: There's a lot of tree branches scattered across roads, blocking many roads, especially in the interior Puerto Rico, and a couple of electric posts also have been ripped off. So authorities will get a better sense once daybreak comes and they go out and assess the damage. But for right now, it seems a lot of trees and tree branches and electric posts.

KELLY: Yeah, and I guess one of the major impacts has been just power outages. Power companies are warning that that parts of Puerto Rico could go without electricity for months?

COTO: Yes. More than 1 million people are currently without power, and that represents nearly 70 percent of all customers of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority. Now the authority...

KELLY: Seventy percent, you're saying? Seventy percent without power.

COTO: Seventy percent. And that number's expected to rise. That was the number that they gave several hours. So it'll be higher. And the power company's director has said that some areas could be without power from anywhere from four to six months while other areas could receive power within less than a week.

KELLY: And what are you hearing about the situation in other parts of the Caribbean, the Virgin Islands? We mentioned Antigua, Barbuda, where the scene is apparently terrible. We heard from the prime minister there, and he's said parts of parts of Barbuda are barely habitable. What do you know about conditions?

COTO: Yes, the scene is devastating in the northeast Caribbean. About 60 percent of people in Barbuda are homeless, and the roads and telecommunications systems have been destroyed and officials say it could take months, possibly years to repair. There was one death reported in Barbuda. It was a 2-year-old child. And now there are at least eight deaths and 23 people injured in the French Caribbean island territories of Saint Martin and Saint Barts, and officials expect that number to rise as well. Again, much of the damage has occurred during the night, and at daybreak, officials will go out. So we expect the scene to become even worse.

KELLY: And I know as you report on this you're trying to work the phones, find out what's happening. Is that even possible, I mean, with so many people without power? And I'm guessing a lot of phone lines are out right now.

COTO: It is a bit hard. You know, we've been communicating through WhatsApp, text messages. You know, it requires a lot of patience. A lot of people are facing, you know, a very devastating situation and trying to keep their families and friends safe as well.

KELLY: Yeah. The Caribbean of course is, sadly, used to hurricanes but not ones of quite this magnitude. I wonder what you've witnessed that's different about people in terms of how they have prepared, how they're continuing to prepare for this storm?

COTO: Well, actually, the governor of Puerto Rico initially felt that people were not preparing any differently for this storm. He noted there was a lack of urgency, and he said that in part it's because people had never experienced a storm of this magnitude. And I think now we're we're aware of, you know, what a storm of this magnitude is capable of.

KELLY: Yeah. And I mentioned that people in Puerto Rico may be breathing a tiny sigh of relief. Is that actually the mood there?

COTO: It is. You know, people were evacuated. The National Guard and police evacuated people in low-lying areas, and more than 4,000 people and about 150 pets are in shelters.

KELLY: That's AP reporter Danica Coto updating us from San Juan. Thanks very much.

COTO: Thank you very much.

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