White House to announce $11.6 billion aid for Puerto Rico: Fox News

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House plans to announce an $11.6 billion aid package for Puerto Rico, focused on the territory’s energy and education systems, to help the island recover from the devastation brought by 2017’s Hurricane Maria, Fox News reported on Friday, citing unnamed sources.

Puerto Rico was already struggling financially before the deadly hurricane struck three years ago, and filed a form of municipal bankruptcy for the commonwealth in 2017 to restructure about $120 billion of debt and obligations.

Since then, the U.S. commonwealth has been hit by more hurricanes, earthquakes, the coronavirus pandemic and political upheaval, and has been the target of increased federal scrutiny into its use of U.S. aid. A large portion of its financial distress was linked to the territory’s power utility.

(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; editing by Susan Heavey and Jonathan Oatis)

Three more states, D.C. and Puerto Rico added to New York’s COVID-19 travel advisory

(Reuters) – Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday ordered those arriving in New York from an additional three states, Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico to quarantine for 14 days to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The states of Illinois, Kentucky and Minnesota were added to the travel order which was first issued in June. The District of Columbia and the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico were also added.

Travelers arriving in New York from a total of 34 states are now required to quarantine, Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Maria Caspani, Editing by Franklin Paul)

Trump to sign disaster declaration for quake-hit Puerto Rico – U.S. Congress representative

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will sign a major disaster declaration for quake-hit Puerto Rico on Thursday, the island’s nonvoting representative to the U.S. Congress, Jenniffer Gonzalez, wrote in a tweet.

Puerto Rico officials and U.S. legislators have called on Trump to increase federal aid for the island after it was hit by a 6.4 magnitude earthquake and powerful aftershocks that have collapsed hundreds of homes and sent nearly 8,000 residents fleeing to shelters.

Trump declared an emergency on the island after the Jan. 7 earthquake and his declaration of a major disaster would give Puerto Rico access to additional relief resources.

Gonzalez on Wednesday said Puerto Rico would be given an additional $8.2 billion in delayed disaster-aid to fund the U.S. territory’s recovery from 2017 hurricanes.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Jonathan Oatis)

In quake-hit Puerto Rico even the bees are fleeing their homes

By Andrew Hay

(Reuters) – Puerto Rican bees are abandoning hives as weeks of earthquakes disrupt colonies, experts said, raising concerns that a subspecies seen as a possible solution to the global bee crisis could take another hit after being decimated by hurricanes in 2017.

Bees have deserted up to 25% of hives in towns like Guayanilla in southern Puerto Rico after hundreds of tremors and a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rattled the area, said Hermes Conde, director of the island’s Eastern Apiculture School. The quakes have shifted the position of many hives, confused returning bees and caused destruction inside the wooden boxes, he said.

They have also disrupted beekeepers’ normal feeding of hives during winter months as farmers recover from quakes that collapsed hundreds of homes and caused at least one death. Thousands of Puerto Ricans are sleeping outdoors, fearful their houses could collapse in another big aftershock.

As the U.S. territory seeks a disaster declaration from President Donald Trump to increase relief resources, the island’s beekeepers are appealing for U.S. donations of “protein patties” and other bee food to save their hives.

“Bees are looking for calmer areas, fleeing all the movement in the earthquake zone,” said Conde, who has lost 10 of his 50 hives in Guayanilla and fears more may go if quakes continue.

Puerto Rico’s hardy, productive bees are the descendants of Africanized bees. They are seen as a possible substitute for western honey bees that have died off in unprecedented numbers due to so-called colony collapse disorder (CCD).

Scientists say Puerto Rico’s bees are less susceptible to parasites blamed for CCD, a phenomenon which has caused economic losses worldwide in crops that depend on western honey bees for pollination.

Around 85% of Puerto Rico’s bees were wiped out by Hurricane Maria in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people on the Caribbean island. The bee population has since recovered to around 60% of its former size, according to Conde.

Bee expert Tugrul Giray, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, said the principal reason bees were abandoning hives was likely a lack of food as beekeepers tended to other priorities in their lives.

But he said bees hated vibration, and the repeated tremors and earthquakes since Dec. 28 had caused them to become less docile and leave nests.

“Puerto Rico’s beekeepers need special help right now,” said Giray, warning locals to take care when encountering the island’s stressed-out bees.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; editing by Bill Tarrant and Leslie Adler)

Puerto Rico to be given access to $8.2 billion in blocked disaster aid funding: Politico

(Reuters) – Puerto Rico will be allowed access to $8.2 billion in blocked disaster aid funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Politico reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. territory has undergone hundreds of earthquakes and aftershocks since Dec. 28 that have caused structural damage to thousands of buildings and homes.

The quakes have worsened Puerto Rico’s woes as it continues to recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma in 2017, which killed about 3,000 people, and goes through a bankruptcy process.

“Now that a full financial monitoring team is assembled and active, we can move forward with confidence that these disaster recovery funds will reach those who need them the most,” the Politico report quoted an unnamed HUD official as saying.

U.S. President Donald Trump suggested in July last year that Puerto Rico could not be trusted to manage federal aid, saying it was “in the hands of incompetent people and very corrupt people.”

Access to the funds after all may come as a relief for Puerto Rico after rating agency Moody’s Investors Service said on Tuesday that recent earthquakes posed a setback for the Caribbean island in terms of its economic recovery and ability to retain residents and businesses.

The development followed a letter http://bit.ly/2NtywlS on Tuesday in which Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer and several other Senate Democrats asked the Trump administration to approve full aid to Puerto Rico.

The HUD did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment outside regular working hours.

(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

After quake, Puerto Rico governor says power should be back by Monday

By Ricardo Ortiz

YAUCO, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vázquez said power should be fully restored across the island by Monday after the worst earthquake in over a century knocked out the U.S. territory’s biggest generating plant and left nearly all its 3 million residents without electricity.

Two days after the earthquake, only half of the Caribbean island had power, Puerto Rico’s top energy executive, José Ortiz, said on Thursday.

The Caribbean island’s largest power plant, Costa Sur, could remain off line for a year or more due to earthquake damage, Ortiz told a news conference, evoking memories of lengthy power outages following back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Puerto Rico in 2017.

But power should be completely restored by Monday as other generating plants came back online, Ortiz, executive director of public power utility PREPA, and Vázquez said at the news conference.

“Our projection, as you have heard, is that during the weekend, or Monday, we will have 100% of customers with energy services,” said Vázquez, who took office in August.

Tuesday’s 6.4 magnitude quake and 5.6 aftershock killed at least one person and destroyed or damaged about 300 homes in the south of the island.

The earthquake added to Puerto Rico’s woes as it continues to recover from Hurricanes Maria and Irma, which killed nearly 3,000 people in 2017, and go through a bankruptcy process.

Utility crews scrambled to fix downed lines on Thursday while residents relied on backyard generators to power lights, refrigerators and phone chargers.

Many people on the south of the island set up house outside, fearful another quake could collapse their homes.

“We are here trying to survive the situation, you know?” said Luis Rodriguez Melendez, sitting on a bed set up under a camping canopy in the hard-hit town of Yauco.

The quake shut down Puerto Rico’s power system as generating plants automatically went off line and Costa Sur, which supplied up to a third of electricity, suffered severe damage.

Puerto Rico needs remaining plants to operate at or near capacity to meet peak demand, Ortiz said.

Vázquez initially said power would be fully restored within 24 to 48 hours, but additional damage to plants and infrastructure was discovered, slowing the process.

“It’s a difficult moment,” said Yauco resident Bethzaida Lopez Pacheco, also at the shelter. “The fact that there’s no electricity makes it difficult for the elderly with conditions to manage, to manage their food, for people to care for their children.”

Ortiz did not rule out building a new power plant to replace the ageing Costa Sur facility. He also raised the prospect of bringing in temporary generators with aid from the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency and said PREPA was looking for a company to supply them.

(Reporting by Ricardo Ortiz in Yauco, Puerto Rico; Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta and Andrew Hay; Editing by Scott Malone, Richard Chang and Leslie Adler)

Puerto Rico slowly brings back electricity after powerful earthquake

By Luis Valentin Ortiz

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico’s power grid crept back to service on Wednesday after it was shut down entirely as a safety measure on Tuesday amid a storm of earthquakes including the most powerful to strike the Caribbean island in 102 years.

The temblors including one of magnitude 6.4 killed at least one person and flattened homes across the southern coast, provoking a state of emergency on the island of 3 million people and the activation of the National Guard.

Nearly 500,000 of the island’s 1.5 million customers had service on Wednesday morning, up from 100,000 the night before, and the island was generating about 542 megawatts of electricity, the power authority AEE said, still short of the demand of some 2,000 megawatts.

The large Costa Sur plant suffered severe damage and remained out of service, though Governor Wanda Vazquez said on Tuesday power should be restored to most of the island within 48 hours provided there were no more earthquakes.

Puerto Ricans endured lengthy power outages in 2017 following devastating Hurricane Maria, one of a series of natural and man-made disasters to afflict the U.S. territory in recent years. The island is also going through bankruptcy and its former governor resigned amid a political scandal and massive street protests last year.

Vazquez ordered schools and other public offices closed while emergency responders searched crumpled buildings for possible victims and engineers inspected others for safety.

Some Puerto Ricans in the hard-hit south of the island moved beds outside on Tuesday night and slept outdoors, fearful their homes would crumble if another earthquake hit, Vazquez said.

Hundreds of quakes have touched the island, including 10 of magnitude 4 or greater, since Dec. 28, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

Around 750 people spent the night in shelters in southern towns hit hardest, the government reported.

Bottled water, batteries and flashlights ran low at supermarkets in the capital San Juan and long lines formed outside gas stations. Backup generators kept the city’s international airport functioning.

Puerto Ricans are used to dealing with hurricanes but powerful quakes are rare.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty, this is the first time this has happened to us,” said Patricia Alonso, 48, who lost power and water at her home and headed to her mother’s apartment building with her 13-year-old son as it had a generator.

The U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said on Tuesday that aid had been made available for earthquake response efforts.

(Reporting by Luis Valentin Ortiz; Additional reporting by Andrew Hay and Daniel Trotta; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and David Gregorio)

Puerto Rico declares emergency, activates National Guard after earthquakes

By Luis Valentin Ortiz

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (Reuters) – Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard on Tuesday after a series of earthquakes including one of magnitude 6.4 struck the Caribbean island.

The temblors killed at least one person, knocked out power across much of the island and caused significant damage, authorities and media reported.

Vazquez said all public sector offices except for emergency services would remain closed on Tuesday while emergency plans were implemented. The emergency order and activation of the National Guard were later published on an official government website.

The island has been rocked by a series of quakes in recent days, including a 5.8-magnitude temblor on Monday that damaged a few homes on the southern coast.

The U.S. territory is still recovering from a pair of devastating 2017 hurricanes that killed about 3,000 people and destroyed significant infrastructure across an island working through a bankruptcy process to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

Vazquez, who assumed office in August after Ricardo Rossello stepped down in the face of massive street protests, tweeted pleas for people to remain calm.

“We want everyone to be safe. That is why all work in the public sectors has been suspended today, so that you can be with your family, implementing your emergency plans,” Vazquez tweeted.

The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center reported a small tsunami measuring around 20 centimeters (7.9 inches).

The first and biggest quake on Tuesday, of magnitude 6.4, struck at a depth of 10.0 km (six miles) at 4:24 am (0824 GMT) near Ponce on the island’s southern coast, the U.S. Geological Survey said.

A 73-year-old died there after a wall fell on him, newspaper El Nuevo Dia reported.

Witnesses on social media described the quake as “super strong” and lasting up to 30 seconds. It was followed by a number of hefty aftershocks including one measuring 5.8.

The impact along the country’s southern coast appeared significant.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Chief Executive Jose Ortiz said its Central Costa Sur power plant was damaged, and the utility was checking other substations on the island.

PREPA had cut off power on safety grounds and hoped to reconnect supplies as soon as possible, it said on Twitter.

The quake severely damaged the Immaculate Conception church in Guayanilla, leaving about half of it standing and surrounded by piles of rubble, according to video posted by Wapa TV. A picture published by El Nuevo Dia showed people removing artifacts.

At least eight homes collapsed in Yauco, El Nuevo Dia reported, citing Mayor Angel Torres. Wapa TV video showed one home in Yauco flattened, its roof intact atop debris and slanting until it touched the ground.

The international airport in Carolina, just east of San Juan, continued normal service with the help of power generators, El Nuevo Dia reported, citing Jorge Hernandez, chief executive of Aerostar Airport Holdings.

In the town of Guanica, several buildings collapsed. Further east in Maunabo, video on social media showed people evacuating to higher ground following the tsunami warning.

“Persons along coastal areas near the earthquake should be observant and exercise normal caution, otherwise no action is required,” the PTWC said in its warning.

Monday’s quake off southern Puerto Rico knocked several houses off their supporting pillars in Guanica and Guayanilla, crushing vehicles beneath them.

That quake also destroyed the Window of the Caribbean, a rock formation on a beach that had been a tourist attraction, but there were no reports of injuries.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and David Gregorio)

Quake rattles Puerto Rico, damages homes on southern coast

(Reuters) – A 5.8-magnitude earthquake off the southern coast of Puerto Rico on Monday damaged homes and destroyed a rock formation on a beach that had been a tourist attraction, but there were no reports of injuries.

The quake was shallow at 3.7 miles (6 km) beneath the surface with an epicenter 8 miles (13 km) south-southeast of Indios, the U.S. Geological Survey said, enough to rattle the southwestern corner of the Caribbean island.

It was the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the area over the past two weeks.

Several homes were knocked off their pillars in the towns of Guanica and Guayanilla. Television images showed a number of elevated homes that crushed vehicles parked beneath the main floor.

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said his office would be in contact with local and federal authorities to determine if government aid was needed for the U.S. territory.

Puerto Rico Governor Wanda Vazquez said she convened a meeting of her security team, which was assessing the damage.

Guayanilla also lost a tourist attraction called the Window of the Caribbean, a rock formation jutting into the sea that formerly featured a doughnut-like hole that provided a frame for the seascape behind it. With the quake, the top layer of rock and earth fell into the water.

The top of the frame had been subjected to partial collapse with the recent temblors and finally gave way with Monday’s quake, Telemundo Puerto Rico television reported.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Chris Reese)

U.S. bill would provide Puerto Rico a path to statehood

U.S. bill would provide Puerto Rico a path to statehood
(Reuters) – The question of statehood for Puerto Rico would be put to voters of the U.S. commonwealth for a third time since 2012 under legislation introduced in Congress on Tuesday.

Proponents of the bill said it would provide the island with the same path to statehood taken by Alaska and Hawaii, the last two states admitted to the union.

Under the legislation, which has some bipartisan support, a federally authorized referendum would appear on the Nov. 3, 2020, ballot in Puerto Rico. Approval by a majority of the island’s voters would lead to a presidential proclamation within 30 months making Puerto Rico the 51st state.

President Donald Trump has called Puerto Rico “one of the most corrupt places on earth,” making the bill’s future murky. The island’s non-voting congressional representative, Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, said the measure has 45 sponsors.

The island is still trying to recover from devastating hurricanes that hit in 2017, while it works its way through a bankruptcy process to restructure about $120 billion of debt and pension obligations.

Gonzalez-Colon said the bill provides political equality for Puerto Rico.

“The American citizens of Puerto Rico will have the opportunity to participate in a federally-sponsored vote and be asked the following question: ‘Should Puerto Rico be admitted as a State of the Union, yes or no?’” she said in a statement. “This is similar to what happened in Alaska and Hawaii, which is what ultimately makes this legislation different.”

In a non-binding 2017 referendum https://www.reuters.com/article/us-puertorico-debt-vote/puerto-rico-governor-vows-statehood-push-after-referendum-win-idUSKBN1931NG, 97% of the island’s voters favored statehood, although turnout was just 23% due to a boycott against the vote.

In a 2012 vote, 61% of Puerto Ricans favored statehood over other alternatives. Neither results moved Congress to act on statehood.

Puerto Rico, which has been governed by the United States since 1899, has suffered the effects of unequal treatment under federal law compared with U.S. states, hindering the island’s development and economy, according to the bill.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog in Chicago; Editing by Matthew Lewis)