Puerto Rico, ravaged by Hurricane Maria and still without power, receives aid from NY delegation

Key Points
  • Puerto Rico has so far confirmed six fatalities related to Hurricane Maria.
  • The storm knocked out 100 percent of the island's power and 95 percent of wireless cell sites.
  • Puerto Rico's governor made an official request to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo for supplies, services and assistance.
A woman looks at the damages in the neighbour's house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Salinas, Puerto Rico, September 21, 2017.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins | Reuters

It's been three days since Puerto Rico was hit by the strongest hurricane since 1932, and the devastation to the island is nothing short of catastrophic.

There are six confirmed fatalities related to Hurricane Maria, said Héctor Pesquera, the secretary of Puerto Rico's Department of Public Safety. But he cautions that officials "know of other potential fatalities through unofficial channels that we haven't been able to confirm."

Not helping matters is the ruinous blow that Maria has dealt to the island's infrastructure. The storm knocked out 100 percent of the island's power and 95 percent of its wireless cell sites, leaving the 3.4 million American citizens living on the island without electricity and leaving limited ways to communicate with rescue workers or worried friends and family.

Puerto Rican government officials have warned that the island could be without power for as long as six months.

Puerto Rico without power after largest storm in over 80 years
Puerto Rico without power after largest storm in over 80 years

In the aftermath of the storm, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló made an official governor-to-governor request to New York to ask for essential supplies, services and assistance in assessing the severely damaged power grid.

In response, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo immediately assembled a delegation of administration officials and emergency response experts, including 60 members of the National Guard, to do a reconnaissance of the destruction. The relief flight, donated by JetBlue — the largest airline in Puerto Rico — departed from John F. Kennedy International Airport to San Juan Airport early on Friday.

The delegation is delivering a slew of essentials, including large-scale generators that can power hospitals and communication centers, 34,000 bottles of water, nearly 10,000 ready-to-eat meals, and thousands of cots, blankets and pillows. Four Black Hawk helicopters and 50 New York State Police are also on standby.

One of the most immediate concerns is getting the antiquated power grid back up and running.

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the U.S. territory's main electricity provider, reported that its key transmission lines were taken out of service, leaving nearly all of its 1.6 million customers without power.

Significant flooding and debris have limited the ability to safely conduct damage assessments, according to the most recent report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy.

Complicating matters further, the power authority is bankrupt, carrying some $9 billion in outstanding debt and still reeling from the $400 million in damages inflicted by Hurricane Irma.

The authority's executive director, Ricardo Ramos, issued a statement Thursday night announcing that the power utility will not resume regular operations until Monday, "in an effort to avoid jeopardizing the safety of its employees."

First-hand account details 'horrific' hurricane damage in Puerto Rico
First-hand account details 'horrific' hurricane damage in Puerto Rico

To help address this crucial issue, New York Power Authority CEO Gil Quiniones, along with a 10-person team of transmission supervisors, engineers and drone pilots, traveled on a relief flight to San Juan to assess the damages to the electrical grid.

Severe damage to the commonwealth's landline and cellular communications systems has left many people, including U.S. Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-N.Y., with no way to reach friends and relatives on the island to ensure their safety.

Velazquez, who is also traveling on the relief flight, implored the U.S. federal government to do more to assist the Puerto Rican people.

"We gotta do better, we have to pass another disaster relief bill, not only for Puerto Rico," she said, "but also for the U.S. Virgin Islands."

President Donald Trump declared that a major disaster existed in both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, ordering federal assistance to supplement the U.S. territories and their local recovery efforts in the areas affected by the hurricane.

Trump also spoke with both governors on Thursday evening to "express support" as both U.S. territories begin to respond and recover from the hurricane, according to the White House. Trump "pledged continued help from his Administration for the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands," the White House said.

The president also spoke about the lack of power in Puerto Rico.

"Their electrical grid is destroyed," Trump said during a U.N. event on Thursday. "It wasn't in good shape to start off with. But their electrical grid is totally destroyed."

Trump said he plans to visit Puerto Rico to see the damage firsthand and disclosed that his Homeland Security advisor, Tom Bossert, has been helping him actively prepare the government's response to Hurricane Maria.