Fears of dam collapse add to Puerto Rico’s misery after hurricane

A car submerged in flood waters is seen close to the dam of the Guajataca lake after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Guajataca, Puerto Rico September 23, 2017. (REUTERS)
Updated 24 September 2017

Fears of dam collapse add to Puerto Rico’s misery after hurricane

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico’s governor met mayors from around the ravaged island on Saturday after surveying damage to an earthen dam in the northwestern part of the US territory that was threatening to collapse from flooding in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.
Some 70,000 people who live downstream from the compromised dam, which has formed a lake on the rain-swollen Guajataca River, were under orders to evacuate, with the structure in danger of bursting at any time.
“We saw directly the damage to the Guajataca dam,” Governor Ricardo Rossello said in a Spanish-language Twitter message on Saturday while reinforcing his request that people leave the area as soon as possible.
“The fissure has become a significant rupture,” Rossello said separately at a news conference on Saturday.
The US National Weather Service said on its website the dam was still in danger of failing and triggering life-threatening flash floods.
“Stay away or be swept away,” it warned.
Meanwhile, people across the island were struggling to dig out from the devastation left by the storm, which killed at least 25 people, including at least 10 in Puerto Rico, as it churned across the Caribbean, according to officials and media reports.
“To all Puerto Ricans, please know we will get back up,” the governor tweeted as he met mayors in the territory to identify their most urgent needs. “Together with the mayors, as one government.4Puerto Rico“
In a development that could help the recovery effort, the Port of San Juan reopened, according to a Twitter message from the agency that operates it, allowing ships to unload supplies.
Severe flooding, structural damage to homes and virtually no electric power were three of the most pressing problems facing Puerto Ricans, said New York Governor Andrew Cuomo during a tour of the island.
“It’s a terrible immediate situation that requires assistance from the federal government — not just financial assistance,” said Cuomo, whose state is home to millions of people of Puerto Rican descent.
“It is a dangerous situation today and it’s going to be a long-term reconstruction issue for months,” Cuomo, a Democrat and potential 2020 presidential candidate, told CNN.
PATH OF DESTRUCTION
Maria, the second major hurricane to savage the Caribbean this month and the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly a century, carved a path of destruction on Wednesday. It knocked out electricity, apart from emergency generators, on the island of 3.4 million inhabitants.
Near the rain-swollen Guajataca River, in the northwest part of the island, floodwater littered with branches and debris engulfed the first floor of a number of homes and swamped vehicles that were left behind.
“We lost our house, it was completely flooded,” said resident Carmen Gloria Lamb. “We lost everything, cars, clothes, everything.”
The storm has resulted in 10 confirmed fatalities on the island so far, Rossello’s office told CNN on Saturday. The governor’s office could not be reached for comment by Reuters.
Signs of the strain on Puerto Ricans were evident throughout San Juan, the capital.
Drivers had to wait up to seven hours at the few filling stations open on Saturday, according to news reports, and lines of cars snaked for blocks. Hotels warned that guests might have to leave soon without fresh supplies of diesel to keep generators operating.
Water rationing also began on Saturday. Signs posted throughout San Juan’s Old Town informed residents that service would return for two hours each day, between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., until further notice.
Telephone service was also unreliable, with many of the island’s cell towers damaged or destroyed.
People swarmed under some of the towers, holding up their devices in the hopes of getting a signal.
The governor also extended a nightly curfew on Saturday, the Caribbean Business newspaper reported.
At San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, Mary Ann Arciola, her 32-year-old daughter and two young grandchildren slept in a rented van hoping to get a flight home to the United States.
“There’s nobody at the desks. There’s nothing on the screens,” said Arciola, 62. “There’s a ton of people. They are starting to fight. It’s not good.”
DEBT CRISIS
Maria struck Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on the five-step Saffir-Simpson scale as the island was already facing the largest municipal debt crisis in US history.
The storm may have caused an estimated $45 billion in damage and lost economic activity across the Caribbean, with at least $30 billion of that in Puerto Rico, said Chuck Watson, a disaster modeler at Enki Research in Savannah, Georgia.
Elsewhere in the Caribbean, 14 deaths were reported on Dominica, an island nation of 71,000 inhabitants.
Two people were killed in the French territory of Guadeloupe and one in the US Virgin Islands. Two people died in the Dominican Republic on Thursday, according to media outlet El Jaya.
Maria still had sustained winds of up to 115 miles per hour (185 km per hour) on Saturday, making it a Category 3 hurricane, but was expected to weaken gradually over the next two days as it turned more sharply to the north.
Dangerous surf and rip currents driven by the storm were expected along the southeastern coast of the US mainland for several days, the National Hurricane Center said.
Maria hit about two weeks after Hurricane Irma, one of the most powerful Atlantic storms on record, killed more than 80 people in the Caribbean and the United States. It followed Hurricane Harvey, which also killed more than 80 people when it struck Texas in late August and caused flooding in Houston.


Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

Updated 23 November 2020

Biden expected to nominate Blinken as secretary of state

  • Antony Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden
  • Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America

WASHINGTON: President-elect Joe Biden is expected to nominate Antony Blinken as secretary of state, according to multiple people familiar with the Biden team’s planning.
Blinken, 58, served as deputy secretary of state and deputy national security adviser during the Obama administration and has close ties with Biden. If nominated and confirmed, he would be a leading force in the incoming administration’s bid to reframe the US relationship with the rest of the world after four years in which President Donald Trump questioned longtime alliances.
In nominating Blinken, Biden would sidestep potentially thorny issues that could have affected Senate confirmation for two other candidates on his short list to be America’s top diplomat: Susan Rice and Sen. Chris Coons.
Rice would have faced significant GOP opposition and likely rejection in the Senate. She has long been a target of Republicans, including for statements she made after the deadly 2012 attacks on Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Coons, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, lacked the granular experience in managing day-to-day foreign policy issues that Blinken would bring to the job.
Biden is likely to name his Cabinet picks in tranches, with groups of nominees focused on a specific top area, like the economy, national security or public health, being announced at once. Advisers to the president-elect’s transition have said they’ll make their first Cabinet announcements on Tuesday.
If Biden focuses on national security that day, Michèle Flournoy, a veteran of Pentagon policy jobs, is a top choice to lead the Defense Department. Jake Sullivan, a longtime adviser to Biden and Hillary Clinton, is also in the mix for a top job, including White House national security adviser.
For his part, Blinken recently participated in a national security briefing with Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris and has weighed in publicly on notable foreign policy issues in Egypt and Ethiopia.
Biden’s secretary of state would inherit a deeply demoralized and depleted career workforce at the State Department. Trump’s two secretaries of state, Rex Tillerson and Mike Pompeo, offered weak resistance to the administration’s attempts to gut the agency, which were thwarted only by congressional intervention.
Although the department escaped massive proposed cuts of more than 30% in its budget for three consecutive years, it has seen a significant number of departures from its senior and rising mid-level ranks, from which many diplomats have opted to retire or leave the foreign service given limited prospects for advancements under an administration that they believe does not value their expertise.
A graduate of Harvard University and Columbia Law School and a longtime Democratic foreign policy presence, Blinken has aligned himself with numerous former senior national security officials who have called for a major reinvestment in American diplomacy and renewed emphasis on global engagement.
“Democracy is in retreat around the world, and unfortunately it’s also in retreat at home because of the president taking a two-by-four to its institutions, its values and its people every day,” Blinken told The Associated Press in September. “Our friends know that Joe Biden knows who they are. So do our adversaries. That difference would be felt on day one.”
Blinken served on the National Security Council during the Clinton administration before becoming staff director for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee when Biden was chair of the panel. In the early years of the Obama administration, Blinken returned to the NSC and was then-Vice President Biden’s national security adviser before he moved to the State Department to serve as deputy to Secretary of State John Kerry.
Biden also is expected to tap longtime diplomat Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the US ambassador to the United Nations.
Biden has pledged to build the most diverse government in modern history, and he and his team often speak about their desire for his administration to reflect America. He is being watched to see whether he will make history by nominating the first woman to lead the Pentagon, the Treasury Department or the Department of Veterans Affairs or the first African American at the top of the Defense Department, the Interior Department or the Treasury Department.
Ron Klain, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, said Sunday the Trump administration’s refusal to clear the way for Biden’s team to have access to key information about agencies and federal dollars for the transition is taking its toll on planning, including the Cabinet selection process. Trump’s General Services Administration has yet to acknowledge that Biden won the election — a determination that would remove those roadblocks.
“We’re not in a position to get background checks on Cabinet nominees. And so there are definite impacts. Those impacts escalate every day,” Klain told ABC’s “This Week.”
Even some Republicans have broken with Trump in recent days and called on him to begin the transition. Joining the growing list were Sens. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska. Former Republican Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey, a longtime Trump supporter, told ABC that it was time for the president to stop contesting the outcome and called Trump’s legal team seeking to overturn the election a “national embarrassment.”
Meanwhile, planning was underway for a pandemic-modified inauguration Jan. 20. Klain said the Biden team was consulting with Democratic leadership in the House and the Senate over their plans.
“They’re going to try to have an inauguration that honors the importance and the symbolic meaning of the moment, but also does not result in the spread of the disease. That’s our goal,” Klain said.