Caribbean universities deal with damage from Hurricanes Irma, Maria

A little more than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico at Category 4 strength, the extent of the damage to the University of Puerto Rico’s 11 campuses remains unclear. With telecommunications in the U.S. territory still knocked out, roads in places impassable and gasoline in short supply, Darrel Hillman, the university’s interim president, said a lack of communication between the campuses has been a problem.

It has also been difficult to communicate with the university’s approximately 60,000 students. “The only way that we can communicate with people will be by radio,” Hillman said.

The university’s most pressing need is electrical power. With power out across Puerto Rico, Hillman said that obtaining additional diesel to keep generators going is a priority. In particular, he said, the university needs diesel for generators to power the central student and employee information system and in order to continue to keep sensitive research-related infrastructure — including a building housing laboratory animals and refrigerators containing liquid gases that can explode at certain temperatures — appropriately cooled.

Power has been restored to the medical sciences campus and the university hospital, which is treating patients, though Hillman said Wednesday the power supply is fragile and has been going in and out. None of the 11 campuses, including the medical sciences campus, are open for classes, and Hillman said there’s no reopening date to announce as of yet. He hopes classes might restart within a month or six weeks — “that’s a very gross estimate” — and said it is possible students from the more badly hit campuses will need to be relocated to other campuses that sustained less damage. It appears, he said, that the university’s campuses in Arecibo and Humacao were hit the hardest.

Senior leaders at the University of Puerto Rico, the University of the Virgin Islands and the University of the West Indies all talked with Inside…

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