Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello this morning described the relief missions on the U.S. island territory following Hurricane Maria’s devastation as part of a comprehensive effort and thanked the Defense Department for its assistance. “Right now, we’re at about 11,500 active [DoD personnel] doing missions, airlifting medical and logistics around Puerto Rico,” Rossello said in his daily morning press conference.
The governor also announced the death toll from Maria in Puerto Rico has risen to 36 people. Vice President Mike Pence is expected to visit Puerto Rico today, Rossello said. “[He] will be here for several hours seeing the damages that have occurred in Puerto Rico, and of course reiterating his commitment to stay here for the long haul and help Puerto Rico rebuild,” Rossello added.
Rossello also warned that potential flooding exists today at Guajataca Dam. “[At] Guajataca Dam, there has been an effort in the past couple of days with the Army Corps of Engineers to establish Jersey barriers -- big concrete barriers -- to avoid a collapse,” the governor said. “[The Corps has] placed 148 Jersey barriers at this juncture, helping as a preventative mechanism, recognizing that it's not a long-term fix, but certainly to attend to the immediacy of the potential collapse.”
DoD is supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s priorities in spillway mitigation of the dam, in addition to route clearance ad commodity distribution, DoD sources said.
DoD is also expanding a comprehensive commodities distribution and medical support network in support of FEMA and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, a DoD official said. “[The USNS] Comfort already deployed on its first mission,” Rossello said, noting that the ship has more than 70 patients from several municipalities. “[We] will still be using Central Medical as the main hub to receive critical patients but we also have the Comfort as an alternative for specific needs and for overflow of these patients,” he added.
FEMA, HHS, and DoD are setting up a 24/7 medical operations cell to ensure timely response to Puerto Rico’s emergency needs, the DoD official said. USNS Comfort will transit west from San Juan and make stops at five or six locations for a few days each, beginning with Arecibo-Manati and finishing in the vicinity of Ponce. HHS and Puerto Rico department of health representatives will prioritize patients for care aboard the ship prior to arrival.
DoD personnel also are working with FEMA to install and repair generators in the next 24 hours, Rossello said. “In terms of energy, we are at 10.7 percent of normal consumption, increasing from 9.2 percent yesterday,” he said.
The governor said food and water and supplies delivered yesterday comprised 95 missions across Puerto Rico, with help from FEMA and the National Guard. “Yesterday there were over 160,000 liters of water and 260,000 rations of food distributed across municipalities,” he said. “In terms of deployment from the DoD, they have deployed 162,000 gallons of water, 44,000 gallons of fuel, [and] 23 million meals across Puerto Rico in the past couple of days that they've been working on these missions,” Rossello said.