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Thursday, September 21

Real or unreal, Frida Sofia kept attention on Mexico's tragedy

Enrique Rebsamen Elementary School,
where a child was believed to be still buried alive 
Associated Press

September 21, 2017, 4:00 PM - last updated 7:59 EDT
CBS/Associated Press 
Mexico earthquake: Navy says no missing child in collapsed school

MEXICO CITY -- Hour after excruciating hour, Mexicans were transfixed by dramatic efforts to reach a young girl thought buried in the rubble of a school destroyed by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake. She reportedly wiggled her fingers, told rescuers her name and said there were others trapped near her. Rescue workers called for tubes, pipes and other tools to reach her.

News media, officials and volunteer rescuers all repeated the story of "Frida Sofia" with a sense of urgency that made it a national drama, drawing attention away from other rescue efforts across the quake-stricken city and leaving people in Mexico and abroad glued to their television sets.

But she never existed, Mexican navy officials now say.

"We want to emphasize that we have no knowledge about the report that emerged with the name of a girl," navy Assistant Secretary Angel Enrique Sarmiento said Thursday. "We never had any knowledge about that report, and we do not believe - we are sure - it was not a reality."

Sarmiento said a camera lowered into the rubble of the Enrique Rebsamen school showed blood tracks where an injured person apparently dragged himself or herself, and the only person it could be -- the only one still listed as missing -- was a school employee. But it was just blood tracks -- no fingers wiggling, no voice, no name. Several dead people were removed from the rubble, and it could have been their fingers rescuers thought they saw move.

Twitter users quickly brought out the "Fake News" tag and complained that the widespread coverage had distracted attention from real rescue efforts where victims were pulled from the rubble -- something that hasn't happened at the school in at least a day.

Meanwhile, President Enrique Pena Nieto's office raised the death toll from Tuesday's magnitude 7.1 earthquake to 273, including 137 in the capital. In a statement, it said there were also 73 deaths in Morelos state, 43 in Puebla, 13 in the State of Mexico, six in Guerrero and one in Oaxaca.

More than 2,000 were injured and more than 50 people rescued in Mexico City alone, including two women and a man pulled alive from the wreckage of a building in the city's center Wednesday night.

How to help victims of the earthquake in Mexico

Rescuers removed dirt and debris bucketful by bucketful and passed a scanner over the rubble of the school every hour or so to search for heat signatures that could indicate trapped survivors. Shortly before dawn the pile of debris shuddered ominously, prompting those working atop it to evacuate.

"They are (there) all day, the families around the building. So they are very worried," volunteer Alex Osorio, a banker who helped save four people from the rubble of a collapsed office building, told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez.

Bojorquez reports that a teacher was brought to the site to help the search crews hoping that if the student [Frida Sofia] heard a familiar voice that it would help her remain calm.

Viewers across the country [and around the world] hung on the round-the-clock coverage of the drama Wednesday from the only network that was permitted to enter. The military, which ran the rescue operation, spoke directly only to the network's reporters inside the site.

Reports about the trapped girl led to the donations of cranes, support beams and power tools at the school site -- pleas for help quickly met based on the urgency of rescuing children. It was unclear if that affected other rescue operations going on simultaneously at a half dozen other sites across the city.

Despite all the technology brought to bear at the school, including thermal imaging devices, sensors, scanners and remote cameras, the mistake may have come down to a few over-enthusiastic rescuers who, one-by one, crawled into the bottom of shafts tunneled into the rubble looking for any signs of life.

"I don't think there was bad faith involved," security analyst Alejandro Hope said. "You want to believe there are children still alive down there."

Rescuers interviewed by The Associated Press late Wednesday at a barricade that blocked most journalists from reaching the site believed the story of the girl implicitly. O
perating on little sleep and relying on donated food and tools, rescuers were emotionally wedded to the story, and the adrenaline it provided may have been the only thing keeping them going.

Rescue worker Raul Rodrigo Hernandez Ayala came out from the site Wednesday night and said that "the girl is alive, she has vital signs," and that five more children had been located alive. "There is a basement where they found children."

Despite the setback -- and the diminishing hopes that anyone was left under the rubble -- rescuers appeared unwilling to question the effort.

"It was a confusion," said Alfredo Padilla, a volunteer rescuer at the school. "The important thing is there are signs of life and we are working on that."

In retrospect, the story of "Frida Sofia" had some suspicious points from the start.

Officials couldn't locate any relatives of the missing girl, and the AP reported that no girl with that name attended the school. Rescuers said they were still separated from her by yards of rubble, but could somehow still hear her.

It could have political repercussions: Education Secretary Aurelio Nuno, often mentioned as a possible presidential candidate, had repeated the story about Frida Sofia.

Hope noted "something similar happened in 1985," referring to the magnitude 8.0 quake that killed 9,500 people. [Pundita note: most accounts put the death toll higher -- 10,000 -- and there is an account that it was 20,000.]

Media quickly reported that a 9-year-old boy had been located in the rubble days after the Sept. 19 quake 32 years ago. Rescuers mobilized in a huge effort to find the boy, but he apparently never existed.

"That generated anger against those who had spread the story," Hope noted.



Initial summaries of devastation in Caribbean caused by Hurricane Maria

By Pam Wright and Eric Chaney
Sep 21 2017 -  07:30 PM EDT

[see website for videos, photos]

Dominican Republic
Puerto Rico
Four main U.S. Virgin Islands
Story Highlights
Tens of thousands are without power in the Dominican Republic.
At least 19 people have died from the storm, including 15 in Dominica.
Puerto Rican emergency officials are reporting that 100 percent of the island is without power after Hurricane Maria.
Maria destroyed 80 percent of the homes in the Juana Matos neighborhood of the San Juan suburb of Cataño.
Dominica was made into a wasteland and communication with the island is non-existent except through satellite phones and HAM radio operators.
Tens of thousands were left without power in the Dominican Republic Thursday as deadly Hurricane Maria battered the country with torrential rainfall. 
“In the south zone there are four circuits out of service, and about 40,613 customers, or 30 percent of the population,” Dominican Corporation of State Electrical Companies (CDEEE) Emergency Operations Center representative Ernesto Perez told DominicanToday.com.
He added that 45 of the east region’s 204 circuits were affected, which amounts to 100,000 customers. A downed power line between the towns of Playa Dorada and Cabarete has left the country's entire north coast without power. 
The storm has contributed to at least 19 deaths, including 15 from the devastated Caribbean island of Dominica, the country's prime minister announced Thursday.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit addressed his nation from Antigua Thursday afternoon, saying the storm was "brutal" to the Caribbean island. 
Skerrit confirmed that 15 people had died in the country and at least 20 are missing. He noted that the toll is likely to rise as word comes from isolated villages. 
At least two deaths were reported in Puerto Rico, including a man died who died off the coast of the island Wednesday after a boat capsized near Vieques, the U.S. Coast Guard reports. In a search and rescue effort by the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Navy and British Royal Navy, a woman and two children also on the boat were rescued.
The rescue came after a distress call was received from the vessel, stating they were disabled and adrift in 20-foot seas and 120 mph winds. The Coast Guard said it lost contact with the vessel because of the weather.
The Coast Guard said Thursday they were unable to retrieve the man's body from the capsized vessel.

Dominican Republic

Flooding was reported as winds downed power lines in the country Thursday, according to Reuters. 
The local Emergency Operations Center (COE) said 9,990 people were evacuated from their homes and most of the country was placed under flash flood and landslide warning, reports DominicanToday.com.  

Puerto Rico

Residents of Puerto Rico woke Thursday to massive destruction in the wake of the hurricane and a new reality – one without electricity, water and, for many, a home to return to once roads cluttered with debris and power lines are cleared.
The storm smashed into the U.S. territory Wednesday morning as a Category 4 hurricane, twisting metal, snapping trees and utility poles and effectively paralyzing the island.
"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Cataño, told the Associated Press.
On Thursday, the National Guard were rescuing dozens of families from rooftops in flooded Levittown, east of San Juan.
The extent of the damage is still unknown given that dozens of municipalities remained isolated and without communication, the AP reported.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump issued a disaster declaration for the territory that is home to 3.4 million people, making federal funding available to Puerto Ricans affected by the storm.
The director of the State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Management, Abner Gómez, said that 100 percent of the subscribers of the island's Electric Energy Authority are affected, Primera Hora reported.
In San Juan, metal roofs flew off buildings and windows broke even before Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 storm on the island's southeastern coast early Wednesday morning.
"No generation has seen a hurricane like this since San Felipe II in 1928," Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday. "This is an unprecedented atmospheric system."
Those who sought shelter at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum in San Juan were moved to the building's second and third floors. According to El Nuevo Dia, the exterior roof of the coliseum is now "in pieces."
As the worst of the storm hit, people calling local radio stations reported that doors were flying off hinges and a water tank flew away in the island's southern region, the AP reports. Meanwhile, widespread flooding was reported in the capital of San Juan.
The storm has also done major damage to Cataño, a western suburb of the city. Mayor Felix Delgado told Nueva Dia the neighborhoods of Cucharilla, Puente Blanco and La Puntilla are "destroyed." Delgado also reported damage in the Juana Matos neighborhood, where 80 percent of the 457 houses in the area "should no longer exist."
"This generation is going to build the new Cataño," Delgado said. "We have to build the new Cataño, after Maria."
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said half the city was flooded Wednesday.
"We’re looking at four to six months without electricity," she added.

U.S. Virgin Islands 

There are reports of widespread damage on St. Croix in the U.S. Virgin Islands, the VI Consortium said, and many are pleading for help in compromised buildings. Major flooding is being reported on St. Thomas.
Gov. Kenneth E. Mapp announced a 24-hour curfew Thursday morning on the four main US Virgin Islands — St. Croix, St. Thomas, St. John and Water Island.
"Your presence on the roads during the curfew hours will only hamper clean-up efforts and could delay the distribution of critically needed supplies," Mapp said.
Communications were down across the islands Wednesday and the local government was working to assess the damage, Virgin Islands Territorial Emergency Management Agency emergency operations supervisor Garry Green told the New York Times.
Photos and videos posted to social media out of the U.S. Virgin Islands showed major flooding on St. Thomas. On St. Croix, WTJX reporter Bob Tonge said the roads were blocked with downed wires and electrical poles. 
WTJX also reported numerous roofs were ripped off buildings in Christiansted town. Roads there remain impassable.
Recovery may be a long road as the island chain is short on crucial supplies, according to internal briefing documents obtained by Politico.
“There are supplies that are literally out to sea right now that are not being brought in,” FEMA spokesman Don Caetano told Politico by phone from St. Croix on Monday. “Had Maria not been a factor, those supplies would have been there already.”


There is still little word from Dominica after Maria crushed the island nation on Tuesday. An advisor to Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said seven people had died on the island, the AP reported.
With communication systems down, including electricity, phone lines and internet, much of the information coming from the devastated island is through HAM radio operators.
Initial images show a once tropical paradise that is home to more than 73,000 people turned into a wasteland of crushed homes and smashed vehicles. Areas with more than 90 percent of roofs ripped off of buildings are being reported.
An advisor to Skerrit was able to convey the news that seven people had died after speaking with the prime minister via satellite phone. Advisor Hartley Henry didn't give details about how the deaths occurred, the AP noted. Henry added that there has been a "tremendous loss of housing and public buildings."
(MORE: The Latest Hurricane Maria Forecast)
Authorities at the Ross University School of Medicine said Wednesday in a Facebook post that they plan to evacuate students and staff to St. Lucia beginning on Thursday.
“Our crisis team continues to be in communication with the U.S. State Department about the possibility of a larger-scale military evacuation, but as of now, moving forward with our evacuation plan is our best choice,” Ross officials said.
“We plan to begin the transport of people with taking care of the children and elderly first. Each family will be permitted to have one parent travel with their children. We will also certainly transport anyone with any serious injuries in this first group, although we are grateful to report at this time that we have few reports of injuries, and those are said to be somewhat minor,” the post said.
During the storm early Tuesday, Skerrit posted on his Facebook page that "initial reports are of widespread devastation."
"So far we have lost all what money can buy and replace. My greatest fear for the morning is that we will wake to news of serious physical injury and possible deaths as a result of likely landslides triggered by persistent rains."
 The prime minister, who was reportedly left homeless because of the storm, said crews would begin rescue efforts as soon as the all-clear sign was given.
"I am honestly not preoccupied with physical damage at this time because it is devastating...indeed, mind-boggling," Skerrit wrote. "My focus now is in rescuing the trapped and securing medical assistance for the injured."


According to the Préfecture of Guadeloupe, one person was killed Tuesday morning on the French island after being struck by a falling tree. Authorities note that the person did not heed orders to remain indoors. A second death was reported Wednesday by the AP. Two people are also reported missing after a boat sank near the island of La Désirade.
According to a press release by Guadeloupe's Préfecture office, 80,000 – or 40 percent – of the homes on the island were without power as of Tuesday.
The prefecture reports that most of the island's roads are impassable from downed trees and flooding. While the majority of the buildings remain structurally sound, numerous roofs were ripped off.
In another French territory, Martinique, authorities said some 70,000 homes were without power and 50,000 without water, but the airport at Fort-de-France was reopened Tuesday.

Mexican masses show who they really are

"But if we created a democracy from the rubble of 1985, we can strengthen that democracy from the rubble of 2017, ending corruption and impunity in the same way that we ended single-party rule."

Volunteers remove rubble from a collapsed building in Condesa. 
Photo: Rebecca Blackwell/AP

Two Mexico City earthquakes exactly 32 years apart. Two very different responses from Mexico's government
Op-ed by Agustín Barrios Gómez
September 21, 2017 - 12:45 pm
The Los Angeles Times 
At 22 million people, metropolitan Mexico City is the largest urban area in our hemisphere. As the capital of New Spain, it governed a massive empire, stretching from the Philippines to Utah. The symbol of the eagle and the snake, which is at the center of our flag and on the seal of the city of Los Angeles (on the lower left corner), commemorates its founding. It is a modern-day megalopolis with pyramids, cathedrals, skyscrapers, huge parks and frantic urban blight. Uber’s biggest urban market is a mecca for foodies and culture.
It is also in the center of a geological mosh pit.
On Sept. 19, 1985, an earthquake registering 8.1 on the Richter scale struck Mexico City. Partly because of inadequate building codes, the death toll reached upward of 20,000 people. Electricity, telephones, the airport, the subway — all were down for several days.
The government’s failure was especially glaring. Insular and out of touch after 56 years of single-party rule, then-President Miguel de la Madrid responded testily to offers of international help by declaring, “We are self-sufficient.” We were not, but we tried to be. 
In collective shock at the lack of response from their government, Mexicans self-organized. We coordinated massive relief efforts that saved many thousands of lives, and we rebuilt astonishingly fast.
In 2000, when de la Madrid’s Institutional Revolutionary Party finally handed power over to the opposition, newly elected President Vicente Fox would declare that modern democracy in Mexico was the product of civil society finding its strength after the 1985 earthquake.
Exactly 32 years later, on Sept. 19, 2017, a combination trepidatory (up-and-down) and oscillatory (side-to-side) 7.1 earthquake hit, 12 days after a nearby oscillatory 8.2 quake. The Richter scale measures energy released, not the violence of the quake, which has more to do with location, depth and geological characteristics of the affected area. So the 7.1 felt 10 times worse than the 8.2. You’ve seen the videos shot around the city by stunned citizens — and they are terrible.
But unlike in 1985, government, civil society and the building codes are much more resilient. Electricity, telephones, the airport, the subway — all are functioning. In what has to be one of the great coincidences of the decade, two hours before the earthquake struck, the city performed its annual seismic drill. (It takes place on the anniversary of the 1985 quake.) We have an earthquake early warning system mounted on each of the city’s 15,000 CCTV cameras. Up to 90 seconds’ warning can make the difference between deaths in the hundreds or the thousands.
Thirty-two years ago, the federal government turned away help that already had arrived at the Mexico City airport (including a Swiss canine unit trained to find bodies after an avalanche — a transferable skill. My father, the ambassador to Switzerland at the time, managed to get them into the city despite official disapproval). 
This time, the Mexican tax authorities are waving import duties on international goods sent to help emergency efforts. Cellphone service is available, and Wi-Fi hot spots are free. Uber is shuttling volunteers to rescue operations. Amazon Mexico teamed up with the Red Cross to create a massive relief “wish list” so good Samaritans can donate directly. Google Maps has helped us identify the location of collapsed buildings so we can channel aid there.
In his weekly column, Mexican journalist Leo Zuckermann declared himself twice as proud today as he was in 1985 to be a Chilango, as we Mexico City residents call ourselves. He’s proud to see how all of our efforts, and billions of dollars, have paid off in earthquake preparedness. But he’s also proud to see evidence of other seismic changes.
Since 1985, we have built what is arguably the most sophisticated electoral system in the world. We have gone from being a country dependent on petrodollars to one that is a major manufacturing powerhouse, with a diversified economy that is among the biggest in the world.
One thing that has not changed: the awe-inspiring selflessness and generosity that Mexicans show in crises. It was the driving force behind the civilian activism that would transform the country in the 1980s and 1990s. And it is evident today, even (perhaps especially) among the more than half of the population that hadn’t been born in 1985. That is particularly relevant now, when egotism is not only ubiquitous, but often celebrated. Not here. Not today.
Of course there’s more work to be done. There always is. But if we created a democracy from the rubble of 1985, we can strengthen that democracy from the rubble of 2017, ending corruption and impunity in the same way that we ended single-party rule.
As the dust settles, the signs are good.
Agustín Barrios Gómez is a former federal congressman for Mexico City and president of the Mexico Image Foundation. @AgustinBarriosG
See Also Mexico City Volunteers Venture Out in Force to Aid Quake Victims; Kirk Semple, The New York Times, September 20, 2017

All over the world prayers for the Mexican child called Frida Sofia

"Marine holds both hands up to quiet crowd so searchers can listen for any sign of life. Hundreds gathered fall into pin-drop silence"

CBS/Associated Press September 21, 2017, 11:48 AM

MEXICO CITY -- A delicate effort to reach a young girl buried in the ruins of her school stretched into a new day on Thursday, a vigil broadcast across the nation as rescue workers struggled in rain and darkness to pick away unstable debris and reach her.

The sight of her wiggling fingers early Wednesday became a symbol for the hope that drove thousands of professionals and volunteers to work frantically at dozens of wrecked buildings across the capital and nearby states looking for survivors of the magnitude 7.1 quake that killed at least 245 people in central Mexico and injured over 2,000.

Mexico's navy announced early Thursday it had recovered the body of a school worker from the Enrique Rebsamen school, but still had not been able to rescue the trapped child.

Rescuers removed dirt bucketful by bucketful and passed a scanner over the rubble every hour or so to search for heat signatures that could indicate trapped survivors. Shortly before dawn the pile shuddered ominously, prompting those working atop it to evacuate.

"We are just meters away from getting to the children, but we can't access it until it is shored up," said Vladimir Navarro, a university employee who was exhausted after working all night. "With the shaking there has been, it is very unstable and taking any decision is dangerous."

Mexico City Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera said the number of confirmed dead in the capital had risen from 100 to 115. An earlier federal government statement had put the overall toll at 230, including 100 deaths in Mexico City.

Mancera also said two women and a man had been pulled alive from a collapsed office building in the city's center Wednesday night, almost 36 hours after the quake.

"They are (there) all day, the families around the building. So they are very worried," volunteer Alex Osorio, a banker who helped save four people from the rubble of a collapsed office building, told CBS News correspondent Manuel Bojorquez.

President Enrique Pena Nieto declared three days of mourning while soldiers, police, firefighters and everyday citizens kept digging through rubble, at times with their hands gaining an inch at a time, at times with cranes and backhoes to lift heavy slabs of concrete.

"There are still people groaning. There are three more floors to remove rubble from. And you still hear people in there," said Evodio Dario Marcelino, a volunteer who was working with dozens of others at a collapsed apartment building.

A man was pulled alive from a partly collapsed apartment building in northern Mexico City more than 24 hours after the Tuesday quake and taken away in a stretcher, apparently conscious.

In all, 52 people had been rescued alive since the quake, the city's Social Development Department said, adding in a tweet: "We won't stop." It was a race against time, Pena Nieto warned in a tweet of his own saying that "every minute counts to save lives."

But the country's attention focused on the collapsed Enrique Rebsamen school on the city's south side, where 21 children and five adults have now been confirmed dead.

Hopes rose Wednesday when workers told local media they had detected signs that one girl was alive and she speaking to them through a hole dug in the rubble. Thermal imaging suggested several more people might be in the airspace around her.

A volunteer rescue worker, Hector Mendez, said cameras lowered into the rubble suggested there might be four people still inside, but he added that it wasn't clear if anyone beside the girl was alive.

Dr. Alfredo Vega, who was working with the rescue team, said that a girl who he identified only as "Frida Sofia" had been located alive under the pancaked floor slabs.

Vega said "she is alive, and she is telling us that there are five more children alive" in the same space.

But the navy said the identity of the girl is unclear because no relatives of the child have come forward with information.

The debris removed from the school changed as crews worked their way deeper, from huge chunks of brick and concrete to pieces of wood that looked like remnants of desks and paneling to a load that contained a half dozen sparkly hula-hoops.

Rescuers carried in lengths of wide steel pipe big enough for someone to crawl through, apparently trying to create a tunnel into the collapsed slabs of the three-story school building. But a heavy rain fell during the night, and the tottering pile of rubble had to be shored up with hundreds of wooden beams.

People have rallied to help their neighbors in a huge volunteer effort that includes people from all walks of life in Mexico City, where social classes seldom mix. Doctors, dentists and lawyers stood alongside construction workers and street sweepers, handing buckets of debris or chunks of concrete hand-to-hand down the line.

At a collapsed factory building closer to the city's center, giant cranes lifted huge slabs of concrete from the towering pile of rubble, like peeling layers from an onion. Workers with hand tools would quickly move in to look for signs of survivors and begin attacking the next layer.

Government rescue worker Alejandro Herrera said three bodies had been found Wednesday afternoon at the factory.

"There are sounds (beneath the rubble), but we don't know if they are coming from inside or if it is the sound of the rubble," Herrera said.

Not only humans were pulled out.

Mexico City police said rescue workers clearing wreckage from a collapsed medical laboratory in the Roma neighborhood found and removed 40 lab rabbits and 13 lab rats used by the firm that had occupied the building, now a pile of beams and rubble.

In addition to those killed in Mexico City, the federal civil defense agency said 69 died in Morelos state just south of the capital and 43 in Puebla state to the southeast, where the quake was centered. The rest of the deaths were in Mexico State, which borders Mexico City on three sides, Guerrero and Oaxaca states.



Only about half of Puerto Rican homes have wind damage insurance

One of the reports I saw yesterday mentioned in passing that Puerto Rico's electrical grid was "crumbling" even before Maria knocked out power across the entire island yesterday. So I venture that a top priority for any U.S. aid to the island should be shoring up and repairing the island's electrical system.      

Hurricane Maria Exposes a Common Problem for Puerto Rico Homeowners: No Insurance
Only about half of houses on the island are covered by policies that protect against wind damage
By Leslie Scism and Nicole Friedman
Sept. 20, 2017 - 4:51 p.m. ET
The Wall Street Journal

Many Puerto Rican homeowners don’t have insurance policies to help with rebuilding in the wake of Hurricane Maria, making the economically depressed island’s recovery more difficult.
Only about 50% of houses in the U.S. territory are covered by policies that protect against wind damage, which is far less than is typical across the U.S., according to catastrophe-risk-modeling firm AIR Worldwide.
Maria, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century, made landfall on the island early Wednesday after tearing through Dominica. Puerto Rico is still recovering from Hurricane Irma, which knocked out power in many households.
Rebuilding communities is a lot more difficult without insurance proceeds, said Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, a national insurance-focused consumer nonprofit based in California. “In terms of straight-up cash to pay for the work that has to be done, insurance funds are the best source for most people after a disaster,” she said.
In the mainland U.S., owning a house without insurance to pay for catastrophic wind damage is fairly uncommon, insurance executives and agents said, though high deductibles can leave people with large out-of-pocket expenses. And many U.S. homeowners whose houses are flooded lack the specialized policies of the National Flood Insurance Program.
Puerto Rican homeowners without insurance coverage will have to rely on their own money, aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in Washington and other public or charitable sources as the island faces what is widely expected to be billions of dollars of damage. On Monday, President Donald Trump approved an emergency declaration for Puerto Rico, opening the door to federal assistance.
The lower penetration of homeowners insurance reflects that annual income averages about $20,000 in Puerto Rico, which is about a third of roughly $59,000 in the 50 U.S. states and the District of Columbia, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The U.S. territory skidded into bankruptcy in the spring after more than a decade of economic distress.
Banks require people with mortgages to take out homeowners policies to protect the bank’s financial interest. Puerto Rico, with a population of more than 3 million, has just over 500,000 active mortgages, according to Black Knight Financial Services, a mortgage and real-estate technology and data provider.
Many older homes in the Caribbean have been “passed down through generations in a family [and are] unlikely to have insurance,” said Tom Sabbatelli, senior product manager at Risk Management Solutions, another risk-modeling firm.
A lot of these smaller homes in some poorer communities “are going to feature far less take-up of insurance” compared with homes owned by expatriates or commercial buildings, Mr. Sabbatelli said. Insured properties in the Caribbean tend to be newer, more expensive and of better quality than uninsured buildings, he said.
Puerto Rican homes are often built with reinforced concrete and can withstand some high-speed winds, experts said. But “with this one, I’m sure there’s going to be significant damages,” said Brian O’Larte, associate director at ratings firm A.M. Best, on Tuesday.
Local insurance firms dominate Puerto Rico’s home-insurance marketplace. The biggest by premium are Universal Insurance Group of Puerto Rico, Mapfre SA and Cooperativa Seguros Group, according to A.M. Best. Puerto Rican insurers tend to buy a lot of “reinsurance,” which kicks in from specialty insurers contracted to cover losses above designated levels.
“There’s really no recent experience” in Puerto Rico with a hurricane of this intensity, said Alexis Sanchez, chief operating officer at Mapfre Puerto Rico.
Based on forecasts for Maria, Mr. Sanchez said, “it’s going to affect, probably, an area with the highest concentration of people and values, which is the northeast part of the island.”

[the report continues with considerable detail and advice about insurance policies in Puerto Rico]
— Coulter Jones contributed to this article.

Tragedy in Paradise

Puerto Rican rescue team member Jonathan Cruz in tears as Hurricane Maria devastates his homeland

What's incredible is that so far there have only been nine deaths reported across all the Caribbean islands struck by Maria. But the swath of destruction in a region that is a vacation paradise is also incredible, almost beyond imagination. Now all the people who regularly vacationed in the region must acknowledge that paradise has a price, and pitch in to help.  


"Hurricane Maria regains strength, heads for Bahamas"

God, that's still a mean looking storm
Maria, as it moved away from Puerto Rico 


From the CBS video report at their website: The only lights you see in San Juan, Puerto Rico's capital, are from generators. Lights are out across the entire island. The Governor is asking the United States for as many generators as can be spared.   

Last Updated Sep 21, 2017 2:42 AM EDT
CBS News

Above chart provided by the National Hurricane Center [NHC] shows the projected path of Hurricane Maria, with the storm centered 55 miles north of the eastern tip of the Dominican Republic at 2 a.m. Eastern, Sept. 21, 2017. NHC

Hurricane Maria continued to lash Puerto Rico with torrential rain early Thursday morning as the storm gained strength and moved toward the Dominican Republic.

Weather conditions in the Dominican Republic were expected to begin deteriorating Thursday morning, the National Hurricane Center said. The storm is expected to brush the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic early Thursday before heading for the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas from Thursday night into Friday.
Leaving at least nine people dead in its wake across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria blew ashore Wednesday morning near the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa as a Category 4 storm with winds of 155 mph. It punished the island of 3.4 million people with life-threatening winds for several hours, the second time in two weeks that Puerto Rico has felt the wrath of a hurricane.

"Once we're able to go outside, we're going to find our island destroyed," warned Abner Gomez, Puerto Rico's emergency management director. "The information we have received is not encouraging. It's a system that has destroyed everything in its path."

As people waited in shelters or took cover inside stairwells, bathrooms and closets, Maria brought down cell towers and power lines, snapped trees, tore off roofs and unloaded at least 20 inches of rain.

Follow along below for live updates on the storm. All times are Eastern unless otherwise noted.

2:38 a.m.: Maria regains major hurricane status 

The U.S. National Hurricane Center says Maria has regained its major hurricane status, rising to a Category 3 storm early Thursday.

An update from the Miami-based center says maximum sustained winds have increased to near 115 mph with higher gusts.

Maria's fierce core was centered about 55 miles northeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic. It will continue to move away from Puerto Rico during the next several hours, and then pass offshore of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic early Thursday. Maria should then move near the Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas tonight and Friday.

President Donald Trump has declared a major disaster in the U.S. Virgin Islands after Hurricane Maria hit. Mr. Trump's action early Thursday makes federal funding available to people on the island of St. Croix.

11:18 p.m.: Trump tweets "Stay safe!" to Puerto Rico

President Trump again tweeted about Hurricane Maria, writing "we are with you and the people of Puerto Rico" to Gov. Ricardo Rossello.

Earlier Wednesday Rossello asked Mr. Trump to declare the island a disaster zone, a step that would open the way to federal aid.

11:11 p.m.: Maria moving away from Puerto Rico, but torrential rains continue

The National Hurricane Center said Maria is moving away Puerto Rico, but the island is still being slammed by torrential rains.

Maria is expected to bring 20 to 30 inches of rain through Saturday to Puerto Rico, the National Hurricane Center said. Strong gusty winds are still occurring over portions of Puerto Rico, but should continue to gradually subside.

The storm had maximum sustained winds of 110 mph, making it a strong Category 2 storm [now Category 3]. The eye of Maria is moving away from Puerto Rico, heading toward the Dominican Republic and then is expected to move toward Turks and Caicos.

10 p.m.: Coastal city sees hundreds of homes destroyed in Puerto Rico

Felix Delgado, mayor of the northern coastal city of Catano, told The Associated Press that 80 percent of the 454 homes in a neighborhood known as Juana Matos were destroyed. The fishing community near San Juan Bay was hit with a storm surge of more than 4 feet, he said.

"Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this," he said.
8:40 p.m.: Officials say tourists should delay visit to Caribbean territory

The U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism says people who want to visit the Caribbean territory should postpone their trip while authorities assess the effects of Hurricane Maria on St. Croix and recover from the damage to St. Thomas and St. John from Hurricane Irma.

The department says Hurricane Maria brought heavy rainfall and flooding to St. Croix when it passed to the south of the island and communications throughout the islands are limited.

There were no immediate reports Wednesday of any casualties from the storm on St. Croix.



Matt Drudge gets to indulge his inner Graham Greene

Our Man in Havana

Our Man on the Internet

I wouldn't link to Media Matters if you paid me so you'll have to make do with the following blurb at the Daily Beast, which quotes the MM hit job, or today's Drudge Report. In brief:
The Drudge Report, the right-wing news-aggregator, has linked to Russian propaganda websites nearly 400 times since 2012, according to a new study by progressive watchdog group [Soros flunkies] Media Matters.
While the study found that Drudge promoted dozens of Russian propaganda articles each year, the number of linked articles increased to 79 at the start of the U.S. presidential race in 2015. The figure jumped in 2016 to 122 articles, which covered a wide range of U.S. and international topics that fit Kremlin interests. So far this year, Drudge has promoted only 45 Russian propaganda-outlet articles.
Matt is obviously having a good time with the story. But he forgot to set the briefcase on the bench. 
Our Man In Havana (1958) is a novel [and 1959 film] set in Cuba by the British author Graham Greene. He makes fun of intelligence services, especially the British MI6, and their willingness to believe reports from their local informants.

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