Puerto Rico: Saving the Dam; Fake News from FEMA; Trump Says Purification Icky

WASHINGTON, DC

Dramatic Efforts to Save Guajataca Dam

The US National Weather Service (NWS) said as long ago as 23 September that the "imminent failure" of the Guajataca Dam was a "life-threatening situation" as signs of failure were detected in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. More than 70,000 people live in nearby areas south of the dam which is located at the northern end of Lake Guajataca in the north-west of Puerto Rico.

Amid fears this week that further heavy rains could cause “a catastrophic rupture” of the 100-year-old earth dam and unleash an epic 11-billion-gallon flood on towns and hamlets below, the US Army Corps of Engineers is leading a hazardous effort to halt dangerous erosion of its swollen spillway. Residents in the area were put under an evacuation order in the immediate wake of Maria but have been allowed back to their homes for the time being.

The Independent reports that the US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) has this week begun “hurling concrete barriers from the air into the main spillway behind the endangered dam. The channel has suffered serious erosion as much of its cement cladding was washed away. Each day brings evidence of further damage to its wall”.

The US Department of Defense said in a 5 October statement that its response efforts (currently) focus on “supporting (Federal Emergency Management Agency) FEMA priorities for distributing food and supplies, producing and distributing clean water, delivering generator fuel to hospitals, clearing roads and working on the Guajataca Dam spillway”.

FEMA Website – “Fake News”?

The FEMA website, an important tool for updates on disaster recovery efforts in Puerto Rico this week deleted statistics about how many people have access to electricity and clean water on the island. The site now only displays information that casts the recovery efforts in a positive light, according to multiple news agencies including the Washington Post, The Hill and Gizmodo.

Information, including the fact that only 5 percent of Puerto Rico had electricity and only 50 percent had water was readily available on the FEMA website as recently as 4 October. But now only more positive information, like statistics about the percentage of hospitals open (92 percent) and the percentage of grocery stores open (65 percent), is being made available.

Water Purification Icky: Trump

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello this week briefed reporters on “progress the unified collaboration of commonwealth and federal officials has made in delivering aid to the people of the island following Hurricane Maria”.

"Our priorities are still to sustain and maintain life -- making sure water and food get to the different areas in Puerto Rico," he said. Other lines of effort include the distribution of fuel, maintaining health care, restoring telecommunications, restoring the energy grid and restoring water and sewage system”.

President Trump's subsequent visit to Puerto Rico resulted in widely reported faux pas such as Trump pretending to shoot hoops with paper towel rolls.

Trump appeared “baffled” by aspects of aid work in the U.S. territory, according to reports. "Flashlights. You don't need 'em anymore," he told a crowd in the local Calvery Chapel, despite the fact that 95 percent of the island is still without power. He was reportedly confused (Washington Post) by water purification techniques, which are essential to islanders' emergency survival. The church is distributing water purification kits, and a member explained the process to the president:

“Wait,” Trump said, “you put it in dirty water?”

“And then you can drink it after 10 to 12 hours,” she explained.

“Would you do it? Would you drink it?” he asked.

“Sure,” she said.

“Really?” Trump said, a disgusted look coming across his face.

“Really,” she said.

“Is this your company or something?” Trump asked the woman, seeming suspicious of the aggressive pitch.

“No,” she said, “I’m part of the church.”

“This is an interesting thing,” Trump said as he started to hand out the kits. “Try that.”

Free