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Desolation among the residents of Utuado: “What was left of María, Fiona took it”

Utuado- Upon returning from the shelter, Adamides “Chelo” Ramos, 67, found that Sargento Malaret Street, where he lives, was covered in mud. He went down the three steps, which lead to his residence, and discovered that the mud-colored water had seeped under the door into the entire house.

“Chelo”, as the neighbors call him, put on his rubber boots. He grabbed the shovel he had kept in the house and began to remove -calmly, but without pause- all the mud that the rising water threw in front of the house.

With the rains that continued all Monday afternoon, it was practically impossible.

During the Sunday that Hurricane Fiona passed over Puerto Rico, the Viví River flooded over the Archilla Bridge, on that street. The rain was so heavy that the iron railing, rebuilt after Hurricane Maria, acted as a dam: the vegetation got stuck in the railing, which, in turn, redirected the water to the sides and to the residences, the neighbors said.

Dozens of logs, mainly bamboo, remained lying in the street.

“What was left of Maria, Fiona took away”Orlando Reyes summed up as he looked at the piles of logs that fell from the pounding water.

“If it becomes María, with the rain that this brought, I think we will drown here. It was a lot of rain, but María destroyed more”, compared the 50-year-old man, who collected buckets of water on Monday to remove the mud that remained in the marquee.

“Everyone says they are ready, but they are not. To say that we are prepared… In truth, no, we are not prepared”, reflected Reyes.

All the people residing on that street had to be evicted. First responders told them they had to leave, according to Marooma Batista, who lives on a second floor with her three children. In a matter of minutes, while she was preparing her children, she was picking up the pets and alerting the neighbors, the street was flooded. “This area was like a lake,” the woman observed.

Something similar happened in the Jesús María Lago Urbanization, where the water covered the main street. “I haven’t gone home. I saw the videos and they told me… I can only say that it was very ugly. In the videos, it looks like a sea, practically a three-and-a-half foot river passing through the street.lamented the man, who was staying at the Luis Muñoz Marín School.

The Utuadeño denounced that the United States Army Corps of Engineers made a mistake when building the wall, which separates the urbanization from the river, because they blocked the exit passages for the current, which supposedly caused the flood. “Despite the fact that everyone in the urbanization explained our situation to them, they ignored us,” he emphasized.

The Municipal Emergency Management Office (OMME) evicted, on Sunday, around 50 families in emergency situations due to landslides and floods. At night, for example, they rescued four people from the Caniaco neighborhood, who live on the shores of Lago Dos Bocas. Emergency calls for trapped people continued Monday afternoon.

The mayor of Utuado, Jorge Pérez Heredia, reported that there have been landslides in the neighborhoods of Mameyes, Ángeles, Caguana, among others. “There are houses that have been lost. Their roofs were blown off, others whose columns have been broken. With the landslides, the columns have gone and the houses have been left in the air. There are many different situations and in all neighbourhoods”narrated the mayor.

Risk of impact due to collapsed bridge

State and municipal authorities were alert on Monday to the risk that the flooding of the Rio Grande de Arecibo drag the bridge in the Salto Arriba neighborhood and cause more landslides and damage to other main bridges, which represent the only way out for Utuadeños.

This was reported by executive assistants to the mayor in the Municipality of Utuado and the sergeants of the Puerto Rican National Guard (GNPR), who were gathered at the OMME. “An additional 10 inches of rain is expected to fall today (yesterday),” warned, in turn, the mayor from earlier.

“If another flood comes, the bridge could be carried away and affect the communities of Cabrera, San José and the other bridges that are further ahead”explained the first sergeant of the GNPR, Alejandro Echevarría, to a contractor of the Highway and Transportation Authority (ACT).

On Sunday, the river’s flood tore off the metal bridge in the Salto Arriba neighborhood, which connects highways PR-603, PR-123 and PR-10. The bridge remains covered with vegetation and parked vertically on one side of the river.

“Every once in a while, I use that bridge. Over there you get to the Arenas neighborhood, Puerto Blanco, La Conchita. Adjuntas is reached through there. As they had made it new, one believed that it was a thing well done”said Neftalía “Tato” Vélez, who was in a nearby business, along with other neighbors who were browsing the area.

The plan prepared by the military, Echevarría explained, will be to anchor and tie the bridge with chains, to prevent it from being susceptible to the possible impact of the flood. To do so, they will use heavy equipment and a brigade of soldiers from the 130th Engineering Battalion, which was on its way from Vega Baja.

“The mission eventually is to get it out, but the conditions don’t allow it now”he detailed.

The fear communicated by the municipal and state authorities is that the metal bridge, built in 2018 by the GNPR, will cause additional damage if it is swept away by the flood.

However, the GNPR notified that it would wait for the authorization of the Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP), whose head, Eileen Vélez Vega, visited the area yesterday, together with the mayor.

Another bridge, located in the Las Cuevas sector, Viví neighborhood, was also believed to have collapsed, as reported by municipal personnel after a call from the neighbors to the OMME, but later they verified that it has a landslide, but it is still in place. Vélez Vega stressed that, as soon as possible, they will be validating their security.

The municipal brigades also have the task of going out into the streets to make a preliminary estimate of the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona, so that it serves to request the declaration of an emergency from the president of USAstressed the mayor.

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