Post-Fiona fuel outages strike fear in Puerto Rico

Tropical climate of Puerto Rico (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

A growing number of businesses, including grocery stores and gas stations, are temporarily closing across Puerto Rico as power outages caused by Hurricane Fiona drag on across the US territory, raising concern on the availability of fuel and basic products.

Handwritten signs warning of closures have popped up more frequently, prompting sighs and groans from customers on an island where 62% of 1.47 million customers are still without power more than four days after the storm.

Betty Merced, a retiree who lives in the southern coastal city of Salinas, said she has spent several days searching for diesel to fill her generator with no success. She uses a sleep apnea machine and can’t risk not having it.

“There are a lot of people with a lot of needs,” he said. “If there is no diesel, we are going to be in great danger.”

Merced said she would travel to the nearby town of Santa Isabel on Friday, and if she doesn’t find diesel there, she will drive more than an hour to the northern city of Caguas, where at least one convenience store posted an “Out of Gas” notice. ”Sign on his door Thursday night.

“I didn’t think we were going to be without electricity for so many days,” he said.

Gasoline was also not available in Salinas after all gas stations closed Wednesday, community leader Wanda Rios Colorado said.

“When I saw that, my stomach almost turned,” he said, adding that he was reminded of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico in September 2017, causing nearly 3,000 deaths and causing a severe shortage of supplies. fuel, food , water and cash.

People have also had trouble getting their prescriptions as some pharmacies temporarily close.

The Puerto Rico Department of Consumer Affairs said there is no fuel shortage, but an outage in the system as a result of flooding, landslides and an island-wide power outage caused by Fiona when she crashed into the southwest corner from Puerto Rico on Sunday as a category 1 storm

Some fuel stations were unable to reopen or unable to refill after the storm, officials said.

The Secretary of Consumer Affairs, Edan Rivera, tried to moderate the concerns and said that “there is no basis to speak of a fuel shortage in Puerto Rico.” He added that his agency has also found enough supplies of basic goods.

On Thursday night, Rivera announced that crews had finally restored power to a gasoline distribution terminal in the southeastern city of Yabucoa, which had been operating at a third of capacity because it was running on a generator.

Rivera said this would speed up fuel distribution across the island because the terminal would now be able to operate 24 hours a day until the island recovers from the storm.

He said that there are 16 days of regular gasoline, 17 of diesel and 29 of premium.

“There is a peak in demand in the most affected areas, but it has been normalizing as the trucks arrive,” he said.

Rivera added that some wholesalers have taken steps to prevent retailers from hoarding fuel.

“Some will say that they have received less product, but it is not that they are receiving less. They asked for a lot and, because they erred on the side of caution, they are not being given everything they ask for,” he said.

Rivera also pointed out that a container ship with 300,000 barrels of diesel would arrive on Friday and the product would be distributed as of Saturday.

Government officials said they hoped to restore power by Friday to areas not severely affected by the storm, though they did not say when people living in storm-ravaged areas might have electricity.

US President Joe Biden pledged on Thursday to help Puerto Rico recover from Fiona, saying: “We are with you, we are not going to leave.”

It recently approved an emergency disaster declaration and a major disaster declaration, which would free up more federal assistance for those affected by the hurricane. Biden also announced 100% federal funding for debris removal, search and rescue efforts, power and water restoration, and shelter and food for a month.

“We will do everything we can to meet the urgent needs that they have,” he said. “And we know they are real and significant.”

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Associated Press journalist Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez contributed to this report.

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