Puerto Rico Governor Outlines Island's Hurricane Preparedness Plans
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
All right, let's get some reaction now from Puerto Rico, which is where we find our colleague, NPR's Adrian Florido. Hey, Adrian.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.
KELLY: So the government responded to this new death toll estimate at a press conference today. I'm told you were there. What did they say?
FLORIDO: Yeah, the press conference was - it was actually to talk about preparations for hurricane season. But when asked about this Harvard study, Governor Ricardo Rossello said he welcomed it, and he hoped to dig into it and learn from it. But then the public security secretary for the island, Hector Pesquera, chimed in with a dig at the Harvard study.
(SOUNDBITE OF PRESS CONFERENCE)
HECTOR PESQUERA: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: He said Harvard's study is based on a survey, which he said is not the same thing as a scientific database. He is waiting on the study that Puerto Rico's government commissioned from researchers at George Washington University. They've been reviewing death certificates and other government data to try to come up with a precise death count. But that study is still in the works.
KELLY: OK. So you told us a little bit there about how the government is officially responding. What about ordinary people? Is this new death toll sparking a lot of controversy there? What are people saying?
FLORIDO: I mean, it's certainly gotten a lot of response. It's been all over local radio and TV. It's in the papers today - lots of talk about it on social media because remember that the government's official tally is still 64 deaths...
FLORIDO: ...And that number hasn't changed since December. So for some people I've spoken to here, that number, 64, is a source of anger because it suggests to them that the government doesn't really care about how many people died after the storm. Of course the governor insists that he does care, and he reiterated that today. He's said that once this G.W. study comes out, the government will update its death toll and hopefully learn what went wrong so it can prevent similar deaths after the next hurricane.
KELLY: Speaking of the next hurricane, I hate to raise this, but hurricane season officially begins on Friday. Is Puerto Rico ready?
FLORIDO: Well, the government officials here who've been working on this say that they are well-prepared. I mean, FEMA has stockpiled millions of meals and bottles of water on the island. Last week, I actually visited its main warehouse here. It's enormous. When Maria hit, this warehouse was empty because Hurricane Irma had just emptied it, essentially. And now it is packed to the gills.
Officials also say that they've installed satellite and radio towers across the island in case communications systems fail. They've buried fiber optic cables to protect them from the wind. They've also got hundreds of generators located at hospitals - and water pumps. So, I mean, overall officials say that even though you can never really predict what Mother Nature is going to throw at you, operationally, they feel that they are much better-positioned than they were when Hurricane Maria hit.
KELLY: And what's your sense, Adrian, if I can put you on the spot for a second? I mean, you've been living there for months. I remember you went in shortly after Hurricane Maria hit. Is your sense that Puerto Rico's ready?
FLORIDO: I mean, look, Mary Louise; you know, there are obviously big improvements over the level of preparation that was in place last year before Maria. But things on the island are still precarious. There are still a lot of people whose damaged roofs have not been repaired. There are gaping holes in their homes. There are people living in flood-prone areas. The electrical grid is still really fragile. There are almost 14,000 people who still have no power more than eight months after the storm. And the government still has not finished its new hurricane response plan for this year. They've been working on it, but today the governor told me that they are about 90 percent complete - it's about 90 percent there.
KELLY: Well, we will hope that he is right. That is NPR's Adrian Florido in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks so much, Adrian.
FLORIDO: Thank you, Mary Louise.
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