As President Donald Trump visited hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico today, officials now believe schools on the island may not be able to reopen for quite some time.
Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. commonwealth as a category 4 storm, just 5 percent of electricity has been restored. On Sunday, Puerto Rico’s secretary of education, Julia Kelleher, told CNN that public schools will likely not resume classes until October 16 at the earliest, though decisions will be made regionally.
“I have come up with a target date of October 16,” Kelleher said. “We used to make system-wide decisions before, but this time we’re going to allow the different regions to make their own decision as to when they can reopen.”
Classes for the 2017-2018 school year had begun on August 14 on the island, but students have already missed some two weeks of school and counting. The initial closure occurred in advance of Hurricane Irma, which hit the outskirts of Puerto Rico just days before Maria. Kelleher said there are 1,113 public schools on the island but host 400 have been assessed for damage, leaving the majority of the student population of 350,000 with no place to learn.
Over the weekend, officials provided an update on just how dire the situation remains in Puerto Rico. In addition to 95 percent of the island being without power, only 41 percent has potable water and just 11 percent of cell towers are operational, meaning communication remains difficult.
In a bit of good news, close to a million gallons of gasoline and half a million gallons of diesel fuel are set to arrive in the next several days. The delivery will undoubtedly be a welcome relief, for while 710 of the island’s 1,110 gas stations are said to be up and running, lines remain long.
FEMA, meanwhile, has expanded its delivery of food and water, saying it has reached all 79 municipalities, though authorities admit many people are still without necessary resources. Alejandro De La Campa, the FEMA federal coordinating officer in Puerto Rico, told reporters that 1 million liters of water and 1 million meals had been delivered as of Saturday.
With more than 3.4 million residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, it should be noted that Puerto Rico’s population is larger than 21 states, including Iowa, Arkansas, and Nevada. For those looking for ways to help our fellow Americans, organizations like Operation Blessing and Samaritan’s Purse are already mobilized and providing much needed relief and supplies to the recovery effort.
Samaritan’s Purse has been responding to Hurricane Maria victims on Puerto Rico and Dominica. A disaster assistance response team and emergency relief supplies are set up on each island, and the first major distribution in Puerto Rico began on September 27. It quickly reached some 1,200 households, with heavy-duty shelter plastic, blankets, and hygiene kits handed out to help patch damaged homes.
Operation Blessing, meanwhile, began handing out solar lights to children and families in need in the immediate aftermath of the storm, in addition to working with local bakeries to produce some 1,000 loaves of bread per day.
“Many of these people cannot prepare their own food,” said bakery manager Debbie Perez. “They have no electricity, there’s no water, there’s no gas, and we have the opportunity to bless these people.”