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Puerto Rico hasn't nearly recovered from Maria, but now it's facing deadly mudslides

A U.S. Customs and Boarder Protection UH-60L Black Hawk flies over a remote area near Utuado, Puerto Rico to deliver food and water, Oct. 11, 2017.

JOSHUA L. DEMOTTS/U.S. AIR FORCE

By ANGELA FRITZ | The Washington Post | Published: October 12, 2017

As if recovering from a Category 4 hurricane wasn't enough, Puerto Rico continues to battle unfavorable weather - the understatement of the year.

Nearly 38 inches of rain fell in the U.S. territory during Hurricane Maria, from which the ground is still laden with water. To add to the instability, hundreds if not thousands of trees were felled during the storm - trees that would otherwise help to keep the ground in place, especially on steep hillsides.

Now more rain is falling. Afternoon thunderstorms are common in the mountains because of the high humidity and the effects of winds blowing through high terrain. When it falls on saturated ground, flash flooding and mudslides are all but guaranteed.

In Utuado, new videos show homes are scoured off their foundations, and cars rest in crumpled heaps in new canyons created by surging flood water.

Andres Rosa posted his conversations with local relief volunteers Facebook Thursday. By "relief volunteers," we mean people who got in their own trucks on their own time to bring food and water to people stranded in interior Puerto Rico, because the National Guard has yet to show up, they say. They ran out of gas just before Rosa ran into them in Utuado.

"Five people died right there - starved to death?" Rosa asks, panning across the ravaged homes.

"No, no, no, they drowned," he's told. "The house was here, four days after the hurricane."

But it's not there anymore, after torrential rain and flash floods.

More rain is in the forecast every day through at least Sunday. The combination of light winds, high moisture and mountainous terrain will trigger showers and thunderstorms over the next few days, said the National Weather Service in San Juan, which could lead to more flooding and mudslides:

"Soils remain saturated and loose, and rivers and streams across these areas are running above normal levels. Any additional heavy rain will quickly result in Flash Flooding across these municipalities. Therefore the Flash Flood Watch will remain in effect for the northwest quadrant of Puerto Rico until this evening. Mudslides and rock falls will also remain likely in areas of steep terrain."

On Thursday morning, 22 days after Hurricane Maria made landfall, President Donald Trump threatened to pull federal relief out of Puerto Rico. Trump blames Puerto Rico for the disaster "of its own making."

As of Thursday, just 17 percent of the island had electricity, and 19 percent of the cell towers had been restored. Half of the island remains without any form of telecommunication.
 

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