Puerto Rico braces for hurricane season, eight months after Maria

May 26, 2018 - 4:22 pm
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(NEW YORK) -- Eight months after being struck by Hurricane Maria, the island of Puerto Rico is bracing as another hurricane season while still cleaning up and restoring power.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that this year’s Atlantic hurricane season will see five to nine hurricanes with one to four major ones.

Officials on the island are making every effort to be prepared ahead of any storm by holding table-top drills, mock exercises and rounds of meetings.

THE RACE TO 100%

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is racing to get the island’s customers back on the electrical grid before the start of hurricane season. Approximately 13,000 customers are still without power more than 240 days since Hurricane Maria hit the island.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, which was working on grid restoration, said their restoration mission assignment ended May 18. “USACE staff are currently supporting the transfer of logistics operations back to FEMA and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and are overseeing the demobilization of contractors that supported the transmission and distribution lines mission” an Army Corps of Engineers spokesperson said in a statement to ABC News.

Col. Jason Kirk, the commander of the Task Force Power Restoration, told ABC News in March that the work being done was mainly a temporary one.

"The power restoration that we're doing right now, for the most part, is replacement ... if we were in the mission to bury them [electrical poles], we would have hundreds of thousands of people without power because it takes so long," Kirk said.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello has said that the electrical grid that is being put up now will be weaker than the grid that existed prior to Maria. He added that it will take close to five years to a rebuild a stronger electrical grid.

THE DEATH TOLL

The number of lives claimed following Hurricane Maria remains a mystery on the island. A team from George Washington University is currently leading an independent effort to count the dead. Dr. Lynn Goldman, dean of the Milken Institute School of Public Health, told ABC News the task of counting the deaths is an exhausting one, which involves interviewing people involved in the care of those who passed away.

In a statement on Monday, the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety has announced that the George Washington University team “requested additional time to complete the commissioned study on the deaths after the passage of Hurricane Maria through the Island.” The statement continued by saying “according to Professor Carlos Santos Burgoa, director of the study, the final report may be completed during this summer to complete the analysis of the available databases.”

There was a spike in the mortality rate in the months after Hurricane Maria. According to a professor of applied demography at Pennsylvania State University who has studied the daily mortality data from the Puerto Rico government, says there were approximately 1,000 more deaths on the island in the month after Maria.

At the press conference announcing GWU as the lead team in February, however, Rossello said: “It is our interest that experts can identify as accurately as possible the deaths directly and indirectly associated with the hurricane to improve protocols for future natural disasters.”

THE NEXT GENERATION

What happens to the population’s youngest is key to the long term development and reconstruction on the island. The number of Puerto Ricans that have left the island has been swirling since the hurricane hit with the number believed to be in the hundreds of thousands.

The Puerto Rico Department of Education told ABC News in recent weeks that 283 schools are slated to close because of declining student enrollment following Hurricane Maria.

A spokesperson for the department says there are 319,000 students on the island compared to 346,000 enrolled students as of May 2017. The department projects that there will be 311,000 enrolled students this August. Half of schools on the island are at 60 percent of capacity.

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