US: 'This city has been ignored': Yabucoa, ground zero for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, still reeling - - PressFrom - US
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US 'This city has been ignored': Yabucoa, ground zero for Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, still reeling

18:27  11 march  2018
18:27  11 march  2018 Source:   usatoday.com

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YABUCOA , Puerto Rico – It has been nearly six months since Hurricane Maria roared ashore in this seaside community, considered ground zero for the But in many corners of Yabucoa , it looks as if the storm hit just yesterday. The baseball stadium, once the epicenter of activity in this city of 37,000

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YABUCOA, Puerto Rico — It’s been nearly six months since Hurricane Maria roared ashore in this seaside community, considered ground zero for the historic storm. But in many corners of Yabucoa, the storm looks like it hit just yesterday. 

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The death toll from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was probably more than 70 times the official Maria raked across Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane , the strongest storm to hit the island in 89 years Hurricane Maria first made landfall in this city of 37,000, where, nearly six months after the

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The baseball stadium — once the epicenter of activity in this city of 37,000 — sits abandoned, its overhead steel beams still mangled like twigs. Homes are missing walls and roofs and about two-thirds of the municipality is still without power. The mayor and other local officials work out of a private home since city hall remains battered and boarded up. 

“They eye of Maria passed right over Yabucoa,” said Edgar Casanova, federal affairs director for Yabucoa. “Yet, this city has been ignored.”

a person sitting at a beach: Irma Torres, 75, looks out over the ocean on Feb. 28, 2018 in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Maria tore off part of her roof and pushed the sea right up to her kitchen window. © Carrie Cochran, USA TODAY Irma Torres, 75, looks out over the ocean on Feb. 28, 2018 in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Maria tore off part of her roof and pushed the sea right up to her kitchen window.

Maria entered Puerto Rico here at dawn on Sept. 20 with sustained 155-mph winds and continued across the island in its destructive, deadly march. The Category 4 storm killed more than 60 people, although some unofficial estimates have the death toll as high as 1,000, destroyed homes and knocked out power to most of the island.

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Yabucoa bore the strongest brunt of the storm before it weakened somewhat over Puerto Rico’s mountainous terrain. Wind gusts here weren't accurately measured because the storm destroyed local radar stations, but at least three tornadoes were observed around Yabucoa, said Gabriel Lojero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in San Juan. 

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"That's where it was the strongest," Lojero said. "The southeast portion was where the most severe damage occurred due to winds."

Concrete homes that withstood previous hurricanes were pummeled and city hall was destroyed. After the storm, with federal help slow to respond, the hospital remained open using an old generator, but only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. since city officials feared the generator would break from overuse.

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More:' This city has been ignored ': Ground zero for Hurricane Maria still reeling . More: Puerto Rico still 2 months from full power as hurricane The government has seven days to comply with the ruling, which responds to a lawsuit filed by CNN and Puerto Rico ’s Center for Investigative Journalism.

Two years after Hurricanes Maria and Irma, records show the agency’s work on long-term recovery on the islands is crawling compared with some states on the mainland. The Public Works Department’s workshop in Yabucoa , P.R., last month. Much of the town was destroyed by Hurricane Maria .

One evening last year, a woman showed up after hours. With the hospital closed, she died of a heart attack in the parking lot while awaiting an ambulance from nearby Humacao, Casanova said.

FEMA has since shipped in more generators and the hospital resumed its 24-hour status, Casanova said. But local officials have had to supply 19 generators on their own to keep the local water plant running, he said. 

The lack of both state and federal attention in Yabucoa has been painful, he said. “Everyone’s suffering,” he said.

Most painful has been the slow pace of power restoration. Irma Torres, 75, washes her clothes by hand and hangs them on a line outside her small home on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Maria tore off part of her roof and pushed the sea right up to her kitchen window.

a man wearing glasses: © Carrie Cochran, USA TODAY "I'm not well. I'm nervous," Irma Torres, 75 said on Feb. 28, 2018. "I don't sleep. I'm afraid that we get another storm and I end up drowned at sea." Her small home sits on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico. Yabucoa bore the strongest brunt of the storm before it weakened somewhat over Puerto Ricoís mountainous terrain. Maria tore off part of her roof and pushed the sea right up to her kitchen window. The Enquirer/Carrie Cochran (Via OlyDrop)

FEMA awarded Torres $8,100 to replace furniture and other lost items. But the long, dark nights have been wearing on her, she said. At night, with a few solar-powered lamps scattered throughout the home, she sits in the dark with her husband, Jose Morales, who is blind, and thinks about the nearby sea.  

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Puerto Ricans are facing the crushing devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria — splintered homes, uprooted trees and floodwaters coursing through streets. That brought to at least 10 the number who have died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria , a toll that is expected to climb.

Puerto Rico was spared the brunt of hurricane -force winds from Dorian that tore through the British and US Virgin Islands Wednesday, but the threat is just beginning for mainland US.

“I’m not well. I’m nervous,” Torres said. “I don’t sleep at night. I think too much. I’m scared that something else happens we don’t expect and I end up drowned at sea.”

Despite nearly 4,000 utility workers across the island working to repair the grid, remote areas like Yabucoa remain a challenge in the massive post-storm power restoration effort, said Col. Jason Kirk, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Task Force Power Restoration Commander. 

Around 150,000 customers remain without power across the island, down from more than 1.4 million immediately after the storm, he said. Challenges have included gaining access to remote areas that were blocked by storm debris, patching up damaged and outdated equipment and coordinating the efforts of five different entities involved in power restoration, including the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) and multiple crews from the mainland, Kirk said. 

"This is of a magnitude beyond anything that’s been undertaken in the United States," he said. 

a tree with a mountain in the background: Damaged homes and trees stripped of their leaves are seen throughout Yabucoa, Puerto Rico on Oct. 2, 2017, eleven days after Hurricane Maria struck the island. Yabucoa bore the strongest brunt of the storm before it weakened somewhat over Puerto Rico's mountainous terrain. Wind gusts here weren't accurately measured because the storm destroyed local radar stations, but at least three tornadoes were observed around Yabucoa, said Gabriel Lojero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service San Juan. © Ricky Flores & Carrie Cochran, USA TODAY NETWORK Damaged homes and trees stripped of their leaves are seen throughout Yabucoa, Puerto Rico on Oct. 2, 2017, eleven days after Hurricane Maria struck the island. Yabucoa bore the strongest brunt of the storm before it weakened somewhat over Puerto Rico's mountainous terrain. Wind gusts here weren't accurately measured because the storm destroyed local radar stations, but at least three tornadoes were observed around Yabucoa, said Gabriel Lojero, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service San Juan.

Kirk said he expects that close to 95% of the island will have power restored by the end of the month, but there still may be pockets where additional work is needed. 

"Residents of Yabucoa can know that federal resources and PREPA resources will get power restored as quickly as humanly power," he said. 

Meanwhile, residents here continue to toil. 

Up the mountain from Torres, Rafael Martinez, 59, spends long, dark nights in his brother's storm-battered home. The storm peeled back a chunk of the home’s concrete-and-rebar-reinforced garage roof and punched holes in the roof atop of the kitchen and bathroom.

Water streams in during heavy rains, and Martinez is constantly pushing water out of the home with a mop. He eats meals at a nearby relative’s home, who has a gas stove, then returns at dusk to listen to the radio and fall asleep soon after nightfall.

The family has been denied federal assistance because they’re struggling to prove ownership of the home, an inheritance from their dad.

Martinez said he occasionally sees crews and bucket trucks working on power lines way down at the base of the mountain but realizes it’ll be awhile before they make their way up to him.

“Six months is a long time,” he said. “And who knows how much longer still.”

Follow Jervis on Twitter: @MrRJervis.

Puerto Rico in 'fragile state' six months after Hurricane Maria .
Six months after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, about 100,000 Americans on the island are still without power, thousands of blue tarps cover damaged roofs on homes, and over 130,000 Puerto Ricans have moved away. “We’re at a fragile stability right now,” Michael Byrne, Puerto Rico’s federal coordinating officer for Federal Emergency Management Agency, told Fox News. “I’m sorry to have to say this but we’re still delivering food and water to some neighborhoods…we still have a lot of work to do as we move into the longer-term recovery.”On Monday alone, FEMA delivered 94,000 liters of water and 50,000 meals.

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