Puerto Rico Feels Early Brunt of Hurricane Irene
When Tropical Storm Irene formed on the evening of Saturday, August 20, the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency (PREMA) began to activate in preparation for the storm’s approach. According to ARRL Public Information Officer Angel Santana, WP3GW, amateurs affiliated with the Cuerpo Voluntarios Radioaficionados (CVR) began to move throughout the island. In San Juan, CVR activated KP4CVR on the KP4CAR repeater. Hams also monitored 7.195 MHz for traffic and used 146.520 MHz for local contacts.
“The next day, the Caribbean Emergency Weather Net activated its HF frequencies to receive any reports from the Caribbean Islands, as they were the first to feel the rains associated with Irene” Santana told the ARRL. “Kumar Persaud, J88CF, on St Vincent, conducted these nets. He received reports from St Lucia, Dominica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Antigua and the US Virgin Islands.”
At 5 PM on Sunday, August 21, WKAQ, a local AM radio station, mentioned that Amateur Radio was being used as an alternative source of communications. “One of the show’s moderators, Luis Francisco Ojeda, WP4OCD, explained that if there was any kind of emergency and you did not have normal communications, you could contact any ham operator to get your message sent,” Santana said. “Not 10 minutes later, he was interviewing via telephone Arturo Otero, KP4AOB, who said that hams in Puerto Rico were ready for any eventuality.”
Tropical Storm made landfall on Puerto Rico in the city of Humacao on Sunday evening, with winds up to 60 MPH. “At the time, the 147.210 MHz repeater was still receiving reports of rain, winds and electricity and water outages, even from the island of Vieques,” Santana told the ARRL. “That repeater is located in Jayuya on Monte del Estado, on one of the highest points of Puerto Rico.”
The next morning, Santana said that the 147.210 MHz repeater was still on the air -- running on emergency power -- and receiving reports of damage and traffic jams due to massive amounts of debris. Soon after, Irene converted into a Category 1 hurricane: “The PREMA radio system was still on the air, as was the KP4IA 145.370 MHz repeater, which covers the eastern side of the island. I was able to contact our ARRL Section Manager via telephone to bring him up to date on what was happening. I was also able to call ARRL Headquarters that afternoon to inform ARRL Media and Public Relations Manager Allen Pitts, W1AGP, of the role Amateur Radio was playing as Hurricane Irene battered Puerto Rico.”
Santana said that Tuesday brought the strongest rains, with many rivers overflowing their banks and opening dams. “Homes were lost as the water just kept coming, he told the ARRL. “There are still parts of the island without power or water, bringing into reality that much work is still needed for the basic needs to be available as soon as a storm passes the island. If Irene was a Category 2 or higher storm, it could take more than a month to begin to bring basic necessities up again.”