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Puerto Rico's Governor Outlines Preparations Ahead Of Hurricane Irma


Hurricane Irma is gathering strength in the Atlantic and is now a dangerous Category 5 storm that's headed toward the northeastern Caribbean. A National Weather Service meteorologist in Puerto Rico told the Associated Press that the island has not seen a hurricane of this magnitude in 100 years. Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, has declared a state of emergency, and he joins me now from San Juan. Governor, welcome to the program.

RICARDO ROSSELLO: Thank you, Robert. Thank you for the opportunity.

SIEGEL: What does declaring a state of emergency actually involve?

ROSSELLO: It involves several things. Number one, it involves allowing our agencies to make the appropriate purchases so that we can have the equipment necessary and the wherewithal to confront this potentially catastrophic situation. And number two, it allows me to activate the National Guard in Puerto Rico.

SIEGEL: What's the current expectation about where Hurricane Irma might make landfall in Puerto Rico? Have you been told?

ROSSELLO: Yes. Well, you know, we've been following these projections closely. It's been changing during the day. Early in the morning, the expected distance of the eye of the hurricane from the northern part of Puerto Rico was about 60 miles. Now it's projected to be at around 40 to 45 miles. But of course, that's the heart of the hurricane where there's an expected 185 miles an hour gusts of wind. We're hoping for the best. We're preparing for the worst and asking our people to take the proper precautions. We've established all of the safe houses and the shelters that need to be put in place.

SIEGEL: Governor, do you anticipate any evacuations being ordered?

ROSSELLO: Yes, potentially. You know, we've had a history of hurricanes, but none of them of the magnitude that we're seeing Irma turn out to be. So if Irma does hit Puerto Rico, we're talking not only major significant flood but also significant damage to infrastructure, which makes for some of the lower-end housing here in Puerto Rico not a safe place to be.

SIEGEL: The director of Puerto Rico's power company has predicted that this storm could leave some areas on the island without power for four to six months. That sounds exceptionally long. How is that? And do you accept that estimate?

ROSSELLO: Well, unfortunately, you know, we just got into office about eight months ago. And our energy system is old, depleted and very weak. We've been anticipating the need to change said infrastructure and working with potential public private alliances to revitalize the energy, you know, core and looking for the private sector to chime in. Unfortunately, although we started on that effort, what we have really been able to do is an emergency sort of clean-up and preparation so that we can identify the most vulnerable areas in Puerto Rico and its energy system. The reality is that we have a weakened energy infrastructure, and anything above a Category 3 hurricane hitting Puerto Rico would be devastating towards that infrastructure.

SIEGEL: Governor, we've all been following the stories from Texas as people there are starting to recover from Hurricane Harvey. Are you worried that emergency response resources might be spread too thin if Irma hits Puerto Rico and other U.S. territories the way we fear it might?

ROSSELLO: Right. Well, we've been working closely with the federal government and with FEMA. We've been executing on all fronts. And although it is a consideration, you know, you have to know that FEMA is prepared for several events of this magnitude to be occurring at different places. But it really hinges on continuing having this great communication.

SIEGEL: Governor Ricardo Rossello of Puerto Rico, thanks for talking with us today. Good luck.

ROSSELLO: Thank you, Robert. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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