Nearly 3.5 million Americans are without electricity in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria's direct hit, but the impacts to its bankrupt power provider could be felt for months after what its governor called an "unprecedented atmospheric system." The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority declared bankruptcy on July 2 after being bogged down by old power plants that need of billions in repairs and the island's heavy reliance on imported oil. Ahead of Hurricane Irma earlier this month, Moody's Investors Service warned that "long-term power outages will have negative impacts on PREPA's revenues and will pose added challenges in Puerto Rico's overall recovery from this natural disaster." And consumers on the island already pay "more for their power than consumers in any state except Hawaii," according to the Energy Information Administration. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz summed up the devastation to MSNBC: "We're looking at four to six months without electricity" in Puerto Rico.
President Donald Trump's administration said in a statement it "continues to direct all necessary Federal resources to protect the people of the United States territories affected by Hurricane Maria" and Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said he'd requested a disaster declaration that could help speed the deployment of federal assistance. Dangerous winds and flood surges are possible over the coming days, according to federal officials. Another thing to watch is the status of the island's 18 Superfund sites. EPA said it had "temporarily paused all response operations" until the storm passed but pledged to "ramp up response activities quickly" once it is safe to do so. In a statement late Wednesday, House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop said: "Both Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in dire need of our assistance and we will do everything in our power to ensure that all necessary resources are made available."
Nelson, Rubio request help: Florida Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, still dealing with the impacts of Hurricane Irma on their own state, asked Trump in a letter, to closely monitor the needs of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands. And they separately wrote to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt urging the agency to expedite federal assistance to local entities to reduce sewage and wastewater exposure risks stemming from Irma. They also asked Pruitt for help to improve existing water systems so they're less vulnerable to damage in future hurricanes.
Looking ahead: Expect the recovery needs from Maria to factor into the next disaster relief package likely to take shape in Congress in the weeks ahead. Senior House members, including Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen, toured areas in Florida hardest hit by Hurricane Irma on Wednesday.