Puerto Rico residents go without water every 24 hours in drought during pandemic

Some are concerned intermittent water makes it hard to follow safety guidelines.

July 9, 2020, 9:17 AM

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Puerto Rico is not only enduring a health crisis but also a worsening drought, forcing tens of thousands to go without running water every 24 hours.

For nearly a week now, more than 140,000 residents, including some in the island’s capital of San Juan, have been experiencing an intermittent water supply. On Monday, Puerto Rico’s Governor Wanda Vázquez declared a state of emergency in the wake of the drought.

The drought warning is especially dire during the coronavirus pandemic as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is encouraging everyone to wash their hands frequently to stop the spread of COVID-19 as cases continue to surge across the United States.

PHOTO: The skyline of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is shown on June 22, 2020, as a large plume of dust from the Sahara Desert blew through the city.
The skyline of San Juan, Puerto Rico, is shown on June 22, 2020, as a large plume of dust from the Sahara Desert blew through the city.
Ramon Zayas/GDA via AP

Jessica A. González Sampayo, a 26-year-old resident of Hato Rey, in San Juan, told ABC News that she believes the outages pose an additional threat in the wake of a health crisis and makes it even more difficult to follow safety guidelines. She said that her ability to clean her home and shower are extremely limited considering the lack of water.

“It’s been really hard and frustrating .. because we’re in a pandemic. I understand we’re in a drought, but damn,” Sampayo told ABC News.

Considering Puerto Rico’s utilities company has urged residents not to stockpile water, Sampayo said that purchasing water at the store is also limited.

Sampayo works full time at a nonprofit organization and said that she has to adjust her bustling work schedule to align with her running water. When the water does come back on, it's inconsistent and often returns hours after the designated time frame, she said.

“The day that you’re supposed to have the 24 hours, you really don’t have the 24 hours, which is stupid. I really don’t understand,” Sampayo said.

Sampayo, who has one roommate, said that although she’s grateful that her family -- who lives nearby -- is still healthy in wake of the pandemic, she is still concerned about her 93-year-old grandmother, who is at high-risk of infection and her mother, who has diabetes.

“You can’t wash your hands as much as you want ... it’s crazy, and it’s horrible,” Sampayo said.

Puerto Rico has over 2,100 coronavirus confirmed cases, 6,500 possible infections and at least 159 deaths, according to the island’s health department. And while Gov. Vázquez, who was one the first governors across the country to issue a stay-at-home order and has been praised by experts for her potentially life-saving decisions, Puerto Rico has still become one of the hardest hit regions economically across the nation.

Adding to the devastation: The island has been rocked by over 9,000 tremors within the last six months, according to a meteorologist's summary. This includes two strong earthquakes that shook Puerto Rico last Friday. The quakes -- including a series in January that left several buildings damaged and thousands homeless -- all come as the island continues to reel from the impact of deadly Hurricane Maria that hit in 2017.

Additionally, the Puerto Rican government has been plagued with numerous scandals, including Gov. Vázquez recently facing scrutiny following allegations she fired a government minister after the official called for an independent investigation into how aid was distributed after January's earthquakes.

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