Price declares public health emergency in Puerto Rico, US Virgin Islands prior to Hurricane Maria's landfall Wednesday: 7 things to know

Alyssa Rege -

 Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico early Wednesday morning, devastating the island as a Category 4 storm with at least 155 mph winds, according to Business Insider.

Here are seven developments on the situation.

1. HHS Secretary Tom Price, MD, declared a public health emergency in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands Sept. 19 in anticipation of Hurricane Maria. The declaration is effective retroactively to Sept. 16 for the U.S. Virgin Islands and to Sept. 17 for Puerto Rico.

"In preparation, HHS is mobilizing assets and readying personnel and supplies to help those in the path of the storm," said Dr. Price. "Declaring a public health emergency for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands will aid in the department's response capabilities — particularly as it relates to ensuring that individuals and families in those territories with Medicare, Medicaid and the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) maintain access to care."

2. The U.S. National Hurricane Center said the storm made landfall near Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, around 6:15 a.m., and was located about 35 miles southeast of the territory's capital, San Juan, at the time of publication, Fortune reports. It is the strongest storm to hit the island in 85 years.

3. In a televised message to residents, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Puerto Rico "[has] not experienced an event of this magnitude in [its] modern history," according to Fortune. The governor also noted 500 shelters have been set up for residents.

4. As of 7:20 a.m. EST, cell phone communications across the island were failing and nearly 1 million of the 3.4 million residents were without power, according to Business Insider.

5. Prior to making landfall in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria barreled through the island of Dominica in the West Indies Sept. 19, killing at least eight people, The New York Times reports. The island houses the Ross University School of Medicine's main campus.

6. William F. Owen, MD, dean of the medical school, said Sept. 19 officials "were still struggling to determine the whereabouts of many students and faculty, and were reaching out to the United States and Canadian governments for help," according to the NYT. Officials reportedly set up a hotline for parents inquiring about their children enrolled at the university, but the phone line was "constantly busy."

7. In an update issued on the medical school's website, officials conducted a check-in at 3 p.m. Sept. 20 and officials believe "nearly all students are accounted for."

Editor's note: This is a developing story and will be updated when more information becomes available.


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