Puerto Rico Still Reeling After Hurricane

Oct 29, 2017
Originally published on October 29, 2017 3:48 pm
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Puerto Rico, five weeks have passed since Hurricane Maria. And much of the island is still without power. Most schools are closed. And clean water is still hard to come by. NPR's Jason Beaubien is in Puerto Rico, and he joins me. Good morning.

JASON BEAUBIEN, BYLINE: Good morning.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Jason, there's still no power on much of the island, which is astounding. It's five weeks now. What is it like? What have you seen to undertake a recovery from a hurricane when you still don't have power?

BEAUBIEN: And part of what is crazy is it's not just Hurricane Maria. Hurricane Irma came through here two weeks before that. So there's some people who've been almost two months without power. But people are making an effort. They're out there. I see people, you know, cleaning up by hand. People are out there with hand tools trying to, you know, cut 2-by-4's to rebuild things when, you know, they don't have power tools. You've got people who are living in high-rises. It's kind of amazing sometimes walking around at night here in San Juan. You got these tall buildings. And you'll just see some candles flickering in the - and that's the only light in this entire high-rise.

I went out last night, actually, to try to catch some of the World Series. And some of the bars are starting to reopen. But everywhere that you go, the only power that people have is running off of generators or running off of some solar power. You really do not see people getting much power from the grid.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Do you see people at work on the power system?

BEAUBIEN: You do - absolutely. I mean, this is like this incredible project that is happening all across the island. There are crews that are out there. You see them moving. But you also see that there are power lines down absolutely everywhere. I mean, you know, we are talking weeks after Maria came through, and they're just - you know, wires are still lying all over the place. You know, big towers are down. It's dominating the media. It's dominating the news everyday. This is the obsession in Puerto Rico right now - is the power.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: People must be frustrated. Who are they blaming?

BEAUBIEN: You know, people are, to some degree, blaming, you know, the hurricane. But there's also growing frustration with the power company here. People recognize that this had a lot of problems before even Maria came through. The power company had gone bankrupt earlier this year. Rates were always incredibly high. Service had been bad even before this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

BEAUBIEN: So now you've got this power company that is desperately trying to rebuild across the entire island. It doesn't have any revenue coming in because it is not providing any power. People's bills have been suspended. So people are very frustrated with PREPA, which is the power authority, and hoping that they can pull this off and get the island re-energized.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I'd like to ask you about something else. There have been reports that the death toll in Puerto Rico is underreported. What are you hearing?

BEAUBIEN: Yes. And you know, in a moment when there isn't very good communications, when the people don't have power, their cell phones aren't working, there are a lot of rumors swirling around - but a lot of people are saying that the death toll is far higher than what has been reported officially.

I went out with the doctor yesterday. He was saying to me, you know, you don't write on the death certificate, Hurricane Maria. You write that they died of cardiac arrest. He's basically saying that people are dying from conditions because they don't have electricity. They don't have fans. They're sleeping out there with mosquitoes.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Right.

BEAUBIEN: And it's these conditions created by Hurricane Maria that are causing people to die. And it's not being reported officially.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's NPR's Jason Beaubien in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Thanks so much.

BEAUBIEN: You're welcome.

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