- REUTERS/Alvin Baez
Conditions in Puerto Rico continue to deteriorate. Just days after Hurricane Maria left the island completely without power, an 11-billion gallon dam on its northwest coast began to fail. Spillage from the Guajataca Dam has prompted the governor to issue evacuation warnings for 70,000 residents in two nearby towns.
After surveying the cracked dam over the weekend, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rossello again told locals to clear the area as soon as possible.
- REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
“The fissure has become a significant rupture,” he said at a news conference on Saturday. As of Monday, the dam has not completely collapsed, but Rossello told CNN he was taking precautions based on the presumption that it would.
“I’d rather be wrong on that front than doing nothing and having that fail and costing people lives,” he said.
On Friday, the Associated Press reported that buses had been sent to the site of the dam to help evacuate residents, and reports from local media and Reuters suggest that less than 350 people from the area have been moved to safety as of Monday.
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The trouble began Friday afternoon, when large cracks emerged along the sides of the structure, Reuters reported. At 2:10 p.m., the National Weather Service posted an alert warning people in two towns downstream, Isabela and Quebradillas. “Move to higher ground now. Act quickly to protect your life,” the NWS said. At a press conference a few hours later, Governor Rossello warned, “It’s time to get people out.”
A chart from USGS showing water levels for the dam shows the extent of Friday’s damage.
It’s still unclear what caused the failure, but swelling from Hurricane Maria likely played a strong role. Built in 1929, the Guajataca Dam is roughly 120 feet high and 1,000 feet long. It’s owned by Puerto Rico’s power authority, Prepa, according to the US Geological Survey.
Hurricane Maria barreled through Puerto Rico last week as a powerful Category 4 storm with 155-mph winds. The hurricane temporarily stripped 100% of the island of its electricity.
Governor Rossello, who described the event as “the most devastating storm in a century,” said it could take the island months to restore the grid.
More than 95% of all cellphone sites on the island were still down on Saturday, the Federal Communications Commission reported, and “large percentages of consumers are without either cable services or wireline services.” By comparison, close to 77% of cell sites in the US Virgin Islands remain out of service.
At least 10 people have died in Puerto Rico due to Hurricane Maria as of Monday, and at least 27 people lost their lives across the Caribbean in conjunction with the raging storm.