A growing number of businesses, including grocery stores and gas stations, are temporarily closing in Puerto Rico as power outages caused by Hurricane Fiona drag on US territory, raising concerns about fuel availability and basic products.
Handwritten signs warning of closures appear more frequently, drawing sighs and groans from customers on an island where nearly 60% of the 1.47 million customers still have no power five days after the passage of storm.
Betty Merced, a retiree who lives in the southern coastal town of Salinas, said she spent several days looking for diesel to fill her generator to no avail. She uses a device for sleep apnea and cannot risk going without it.
“There are a lot of people with a lot of needs,” she said. “If there is no diesel, we are going to be in great danger.”
Merced said she would go to the nearby town of Santa Isabel on Friday, and if she couldn’t find diesel there, she would drive more than an hour to the northern town of Caguas, where at least one convenience store had a “no gas”. sign on his door Thursday night.
“I didn’t think we were going to go so many days without electricity,” she said.
Gasoline was also not available in Salinas after all gas stations closed on Wednesday, community leader Wanda Ríos Colorado said.
“When I saw this, my stomach almost turned,” she said, adding that it gave her flashbacks to Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit Puerto Rico in September. 2017, killing nearly 3,000 people and causing severe shortages of fuel, food, water and money.
People are also struggling to get their prescriptions because some pharmacies are temporarily closing.
Puerto Rico’s consumer affairs department said there was no fuel shortage, but rather a system disruption following flooding, landslides and a power outage at the island scale caused by Fiona when she slammed into the southwest corner of Puerto Rico on Sunday as a category. 1 storm.
Some gas stations could not reopen or could not be filled at the start of the storm, officials said.
Consumer Secretary Edan Rivera sought to temper concerns, saying “there is no reason to talk about a fuel shortage in Puerto Rico.” He added that his agency has also found sufficient supplies of commodities.
On Friday, Governor Pedro Pierluisi of Puerto Rico activated the National Guard to help distribute diesel fuel to hospitals and supermarkets. The force also provides generators used to run drinking water plants and telecommunications towers.
On Thursday evening, Rivera announced that crews had finally restored power to a gasoline distribution terminal in the southeastern town of Yabucoa, which was operating at a third of its capacity because it was running on a generator.
Rivera said it would speed up fuel distribution across the island because the terminal could now operate 24 hours a day until the island recovers from the storm.
He said there are 14 days for regular gas, 25 for diesel and 11 for premium.
“There is a peak in demand in the worst affected areas, but this is normalizing as trucks arrive,” he said.
Rivera added that some wholesalers have taken action to prevent retailers from stockpiling fuel.
“Some will say they received less product, but it’s not that they receive less. They asked for a lot, and to err on the side of caution, they are not given everything they ask for,” he said.
Rivera also noted that a container ship carrying 300,000 barrels of diesel would arrive on Friday and the product would be distributed starting Saturday.
Meanwhile, Puerto Rico’s Water and Sewer Authority said that of the 956,000 out of 1.32 million customers who have had water service restored from Fiona, more than 400,000 customers have water thanks to generators that rely on diesel.
Government officials said they expected power to be restored by Friday to areas that were not badly affected by the storm, although they did not say when people living in the areas ravaged by the storm could have electricity.
US President Joe Biden pledged Thursday to help Puerto Rico recover from Fiona, saying, “We’re with you, we’re not going away.”
He recently approved an emergency disaster declaration and a major disaster declaration, which would free up more federal aid 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 one month.
“We will do everything we can to meet the urgent needs you have,” he said. “And we know they are real and they matter.”
Associated Press reporter Maricarmen Rivera Sánchez contributed to this report.