More and more businesses, including grocery stores and gas stations, are temporarily closing their doors across Puerto Rico as power outages caused by Hurricane Fiona lengthen in the US territory, fueling concerns about the availability of fuel and basic products.
Handwritten signs announcing the closures are becoming more frequent, causing sighs and wails among customers on an island where 62% of 1.47 million subscribers are still without electricity more than four days after the passage of the meteor.
Betty Merced, a retiree who lives in Salinas, a coastal city in the south of the island, said that she has been searching for several days without success for diesel to fill her generator. She uses a sleep apnea machine and can’t risk being without it.
“There are many people with many needs”, he pointed. “If there is no diesel, we are going to have many problems.”
Merced said she would go to the nearby town of Santa Isabel on Friday and if she doesn’t find fuel there, she will drive more than an hour to the northern city of Caguas, where there was at least one business with a sign “ No gas” on the door.
“I didn’t think we were going to be without electricity for so many days”said.
Salinas was also out of gas after all gas stations closed Wednesday, community leader Wanda Ríos Colorado said.
“When I saw it, my stomach almost gave me a flip,” he said, pointing out that it brought to mind Hurricane Maria, a meteor from category 4 that hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, leaving nearly 3,000 dead and severe shortages of fuel, food, water and cash.
The population has also had problems getting prescribed medication as some pharmacies temporarily closed.
The Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs said there is no fuel shortage, but a system outage as a result of flooding, landslides and the widespread blackout caused by Fiona when it made landfall on the southern tip of the island on Sunday. like a category 1 hurricane.
Some gas stations were unable to reopen or refuel right after the storm, according to officials.
In an attempt to address the concerns, the head of the department, Edan Rivera, indicated that “there is no basis to speak of a fuel shortage in Puerto Rico”. The agency also found sufficient supplies of basic products, he added.
Rivera announced Thursday night that workers had finally been able to restore power to a gasoline distribution terminal in Yabucoa, in the southeast of the island, which had been operating at a third of its capacity because it was powered by a generator.
This will speed up the distribution of fuel throughout the territory since it will work 24 hours until normality recovershe pointed.
The island has reserves of regular gasoline for 16 days, diesel for 17 and premium fuel for 29.
“There is a peak in demand in the most affected areas, but it has been normalizing as the trucks have arrived,” said Rivera.
According to Rivera, some wholesalers have taken steps to prevent merchants from hoarding product.
“Some will say that they have received less product, but it is not that they are receiving less. They asked for a lot, to err on the side of caution, and they are not being given everything they asked for,” he pointed out.
The Secretary of Consumer Affairs also indicated that a ship with 300,000 barrels of fuel will arrive on the island on Friday, which will begin to be distributed on Saturday.
Government officials hope that electricity supply can be restored on Friday in areas little affected by the passage of the meteor, but they have not offered a date for recovery in the most devastated points.
The president of the United States, Joe Biden, promised on Thursday to help Puerto Rico in the recovery.
“We are with you. We are not going to abandon them.”said the president.
Biden recently approved an emergency disaster declaration and a disaster area declaration that will make more federal assistance available to those affected. In addition, she announced 100% federal funding for debris removal, search and rescue operations, restoration of running water and electricity, and room and board for one month.
“We will do everything possible to cover the urgent needs that they have,” he said. “And we know they are real and they are significant.”