Puerto Rico Governor Anticipates Hurricane Maria Will Bring 'Severe Devastation' Hurricane Maria threatens to devastate Puerto Rico, weeks after it was battered by Hurricane Irma. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello tells NPR how the island is preparing.

Puerto Rico Governor Anticipates Hurricane Maria Will Bring 'Severe Devastation'

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Puerto Rico is facing another major hurricane threat. Hurricane Maria is expected to hit the island tomorrow, possibly bringing storm surges, flooding and deadly winds to the island. Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rosello, has declared a state of emergency and has evacuation orders in place. The island is still recovering from Hurricane Irma, which killed three people there and caused an estimated billion dollars in damage. Governor Rosello joins us now by phone from Puerto Rico. Thank you for speaking with us.

RICARDO ROSELLO: Thank you, Ari. Thank you for the opportunity.

SHAPIRO: You've called Hurricane Maria possibly the most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century. Tell us what you're anticipating.

ROSELLO: Well, you know, it's a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 165 miles an hour. It's actually a slow hurricane, so - which means it's going to be here hitting the island for a longer time. The whole island will receive category - hurricane category winds. And there's going to be a lot of water, so there's going to be a lot of flooding, surges and so forth. We expect severe devastation on the infrastructure front.

We are hoping that we can mobilize people so that they can be safe. We have about 500 shelters. People have been trickling into those shelters. But really, we have some weak infrastructure in terms of some of the homes that we have in Puerto Rico. Our main focus right now has been to shift gears from the recovery process of Irma and make sure that everybody is in a safe shelter so that we can rebuild once again.

SHAPIRO: You talk about the fragile infrastructure. That infrastructure was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma, which was not even a direct hit on the island. My understanding is that some 70,000 people remain without power. Is a double blow something that Puerto Rico could take?

ROSELLO: Yes. Well, you know, the energy infrastructure has been weak for a while. You know, unfortunately it hasn't been maintained properly for the better part of a decade. And what we're - what, you know - one of the things we started doing when I got to office about eight months ago was to make sure that a priority was to rebuild and renew our energy infrastructure. Unfortunately that takes time. So even though we started doing some mitigating processes, the fact of the matter is, a slight hit such as Irma, you know, that caused some devastation - but nonetheless, nothing compared to what Maria stands to offer - caused a severe damage to our infrastructure. And this one would probably - you know, the outcome would probably be a total collapse of the energy system in Puerto Rico.

SHAPIRO: Are you getting the help you need from the U.S. mainland, from the federal government?

ROSELLO: Yes. I have to say that all the way from the president, he has responded to our petition to declare Puerto Rico a pre-land emergency zone both for Irma and for Maria. We've had some of their advisers - Tom Bossert, national security advisers and HHS Secretary Tom Price. FEMA has been phenomenal. Brock Long was here in Puerto Rico making sure that the recovery of Irma was going properly. And their local team have been very quick to respond.

And even in this unprecedented scenario, even for FEMA where we're essentially handling two hurricanes in the span of two weeks and major hurricanes at that, they responded very well. So we're very grateful for the response. But nonetheless, we know that this hit is going to be much more devastating than the previous one. And we're going to need the help from all our fellow citizens.

SHAPIRO: Ricardo Rosello, thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Stay safe. We will be thinking of you.

ROSELLO: Thank you. Thank you, Ari.

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