Buzz, Extreme Weather, President Trump, Puerto Rico, Science, Weather Forecast

Scientists warned of an impending disaster in Puerto Rico 5 days ahead

In 1900, a fierce hurricane struck Galveston, Texas, where its wall of water pushed ashore, killing between 6,000 and 12,000 people. The Galveston hurricane remains the deadliest hurricane on record in U.S. history, mainly because none of those storm victims had any idea that the storm was coming. 

Fast forward more than a century, to when Hurricane Maria tore across the Caribbean, decimating islands including Dominica, St. Croix, and eventually, the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. This time, an armada of weather observing systems ensured that no one was surprised by the Category 5 storm, including federal disaster management officials and the White House.

Satellites monitored the system from space, while Air Force and Commerce Department aircraft flew into the storm to gather valuable data that was fed into sophisticated computer models to determine its ultimate destination. These models, and the human-generated forecasts based in part on them, were about as accurate as they’ve ever been. 

A banner reading ‘There is no gasoline’ is seen in a street of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.

Image: THAIS LLORCA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

According to Eric Blake, a meteorologist at the National Hurricane Center in Miami, the second storm advisory, issued on Sept. 16, showed that the storm would likely be a Category 3, 4, or 5 “major hurricane” while making a direct hit on Puerto Rico on or about Sept. 20. 

Its hurricane track forecast has an average error of 200 miles when trying to predict where a storm will go in 120 hours. For Hurricane Maria, the error was far smaller at this time range.

“The forecasts were super accurate. It was a major hurricane over Puerto Rico on advisory 2. And the forecast stayed there,” Blake said.

In other words, forecasters gave emergency officials, residents, and also the president of the United States, five days of warning that the third major hurricane of the season would strike a highly populated U.S. territory. 

This should have set off alarm bells in San Juan and Washington and prompted officials to position rescue assets in Puerto Rico’s vicinity before the storm ever impacted the island. Instead, if that happened, no one has heard of it yet. 

The U.S. Navy’s hospital ship, the U.S.N.S. Comfort, wasn’t ordered to leave port in Baltimore for the U.S. territory until one week after Hurricane Maria made landfall, thereby delaying its arrival by another week.

Puerto Rico now has little to no electricity, most residents have no access to clean drinking water or food, and fuel is in perilously short supply.

In the wake of the storm, President Donald Trump appeared to be caught off guard, choosing to wait three days before tweeting about the hurricane at all. 

This week, Trump has vacillated between staggering indifference to Puerto Rico’s increasingly dire plight and knee-jerk defensiveness about his administration’s performance. 

A general view shows San Juan's harbor in Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.

A general view shows San Juan’s harbor in Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.

Image: THAIS LLORCA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

In spite of the fact that the storm forecast was consistent and accurate for days ahead of time, Trump has consistently implied that Hurricane Maria’s impacts were unprecedented, as if no one anticipated such damage. 

Meteorologists are well aware of what a Category 4 or 5 hurricane can do. In fact, here’s a description from the hurricane center’s website of a Category 4 storm’s damage potential: 

Catastrophic damage will occur: Well-built framed homes can sustain severe damage with loss of most of the roof structure and/or some exterior walls. Most trees will be snapped or uprooted and power poles downed. Fallen trees and power poles will isolate residential areas. Power outages will last weeks to possibly months. Most of the area will be uninhabitable for weeks or months.

Combine this damage with a territory that had shoddy infrastructure to begin with, and you’ve got the devastation we now see in Puerto Rico. 

Yet Trump seems to have no idea that this was possible, let alone likely.

“We’ve never seen a situation like this,” Trump said on Friday during a speech before the National Association of Manufacturers. 

This is not true, however, considering the warnings the hurricane center and National Weather Service put out days in advance. Not to mention the fact that the Puerto Rican governor predicted that the power grid would go down in a storm of Maria’s intensity (it struck as a high-end Category 4 storm), and historical examples from similar storms in the past, including the Galveston Hurricane of 1900. 

The Trump administration has sought to portray its response as a “good news story,” in the words of acting homeland security secretary Elaine Duke. 

She was quickly rebutted on television by San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who replied on CNN: “This is not a good news story. This is a ‘people are dying’ story.” 

Given that the forecast was so accurate — more so than for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, in fact — people are finding it even more infuriating that the storm response has lagged so far behind the other two major hurricanes that have struck the U.S. coast so far this season. 

Wildelys Colon-Jusino, who experienced Hurricane Irma in Florida and has family in Puerto Rico, says she’s been saddened by the federal government’s slow response to the crisis. 

“We were expecting at least having something ready in place to respond, especially when we see over here living in Florida the overwhelming response from all the states to help restore power,” Colon-Jusino, who works in healthcare, said in an interview.

“Were they even thinking of having something… or were they just thinking it wasn’t gonna be that bad?” she asked. 

“One of the biggest questions we have is why they didn’t prepare beforehand if they knew the forecast 5 days before was that it was gonna pass through?”

“I think they could’ve done more, and that’s my opinion,” she said.

“We’re not second-class citizens,” she added. “Moving to the states doesn’t make us more American than being in Puerto Rico.”

A banner reading 'There is no gasoline' is seen in a street of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.

A banner reading ‘There is no gasoline’ is seen in a street of San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 28, 2017.

Image: THAIS LLORCA/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Colon-Jusino says the situation is making Puerto Ricans living in the states, who outnumber the 3.4 million residents on the island, feel helpless, since they can’t even mail care packages or supplies to their loved ones. 

“Knowing that the government hasn’t taken any type of immediate or fast action makes us feel even more like we can’t do anything about it. It breaks my heart. It makes me sad,” Colon-Jusino said. “And for us it’s very depressing not being able to do anything. We can’t do anything, just wait.”

At least one person was through with waiting on Friday. Mayor Cruz held a press conference during which she addressed President Trump directly, imploring him to save her people, who are becoming increasingly desperate without access to basic necessities and medical care. 

“I’m asking members of the press to send a mayday call all over the world. We are dying here,” she said. 

Regarding Trump, she said: “I beg you, take charge and save us.” 1071 3c97%2fthumb%2f00001

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