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Science & Environment

Puerto Rico Chief Of Staff Says Hurricane Maria Devastated Island

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The people of Puerto Rico have had a day to see how much damage Hurricane Maria did to their island, and it is significant. The entire island is without power. Most of it is without water. Streets have turned into rivers. William Villafane is a government official who's been out assessing that damage. He's an adviser and chief of staff to the governor of Puerto Rico. And he talked to me today from Puerto Rico's capital, San Juan. I asked him to tell me what he'd been seeing.

WILLIAM VILLAFANE: Private and public infrastructure is just down. We are without power, without water service. No hospital has power service. Our streets are all - you just can't go through. When you go through and you have to literally take out the trees that are on the streets, it's worse hurricane ever.

MCEVERS: It's the worst hurricane ever. You talk about being - and the entire place being without power. Imagining hospitals without power - are they running on generators at this point? Is there enough fuel?

VILLAFANE: We have fuel, but we don't have the way to take the fuel to the hospitals. And many of the gas stations, for example, are just with great damages. So just a few of them will be able to provide this service to citizens.

MCEVERS: Is that your top priority right now - is just making sure that the hospitals have what they need to treat people? Or what are your other priorities?

VILLAFANE: That's right. Our priority is the hospitals. We have 34 hospitals around the island, and many of them are operating with their own generators, but they will go out of gas promptly. But we are making the adjustments to provide them with the oil and also with gas and to provide them the electricity as soon as possible.

MCEVERS: Wow, I see. We're talking about almost 3 and a half million people not having power. Is it still the thinking that it could be months before everyone gets power?

VILLAFANE: Yeah. It will take months for sure to stabilize the power service.

MCEVERS: President Trump has approved a federal disaster declaration for Puerto Rico and told reporters he plans to go to Puerto Rico. Are you satisfied at this time with the response from the U.S. federal government?

VILLAFANE: Yeah, we are very satisfied. It's really been a quick response. FEMA has been coordinating with the governor and his team, everything. We are very satisfied and grateful for that help.

MCEVERS: What do you most need right now?

VILLAFANE: Well, we need water, generators, technical teams to work with power infrastructure. But we're coordinating that with the private entities that manage the power service on U.S. mainland. So help is on the way.

MCEVERS: And you mentioned telecommunications being down. I mean how are you doing your job right now? I know that we're talking on the line. There's obviously a few lines that still work. But how are you gathering information and disseminating that information to the people who need it?

VILLAFANE: Well, literally we are sending people to go through the roads to get the data about the impact of Hurricane Maria. We know about so many floodings, so many communities under water, landslides and many other damages around the island. I've been myself on the road. I saw what the hurricane did to our land, to our people. And I have never in my life seen something like that.

MCEVERS: William Villafane, adviser and chief of staff to the governor of Puerto Rico, I want to thank you for talking to us.

VILLAFANE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.