Puerto Rico mobilises as potential hurricane approaches

SAN JUAN (AFP) – Puerto Rico has mobilised thousands of federal agents ahead of what threatens to be the first hurricane to lash the United States (US) territory since it was ravaged by Maria in 2017, authorities said Tuesday.

US forecasters warned that Tropical Storm Dorian could reach hurricane strength by the time it passes the island’s southwestern coast.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said some 3,000 agents had been deployed and were “ready to respond.”

“Emergency communications, logistics and transportation teams are also positioned on the island,” it said on Twitter.

In September 2017, Hurricane Maria went from one end of Puerto Rico to the other, leaving a trail of destruction from which it has yet to recover.

People arrive to a private harbour to move boats away for protection ahead of the arrival of Tropical Storm Dorian in Boqueron, Puerto Rico. PHOTO: AP

After nearly a year of controversy, health authorities put the official death toll at 2,975, supplanting the Puerto Rican government’s longstanding figure of 64.

“Wow! Yet another big storm heading to Puerto Rico. Will it ever end?” US President Donald Trump said in a tweet.

He posted that US aid approved for the island last year was a record USD92 billion – “an all time record of its kind for ‘anywhere.'”

In fact, Congress has allocated USD42.5 billion to disaster relief for Puerto Rico, according to FEMA’s website, but the island has received less than USD14 billion.

Puerto Rico’s new governor, Wanda Vazquez, declared a state of emergency and said the island was better prepared this time to respond to any contingency.

“In the face of the approaching situation, the response of the government and the different agencies will be different because it is prepared,” she said at a news conference.

Former governor Ricardo Rossello was forced to resign last month in part because of criticism of his handling of the emergency created by Maria.