Law offices in Puerto Rico are operating on generators and dealing with damage from torrential rains in the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, which ravaged the island earlier this week.
On Sunday, the hurricane hit the island’s south side with 100-mph winds, flooding homes and leaving millions of residents without power or safe drinking water. So far, Fiona, now a Category 4 storm, has killed five people.
On Wednesday, several plaintiffs firms were up and running but operating on generators, or having employees work remotely.
“Devastating,” Paul Farrell, of Farrell & Fuller, wrote in an email, when asked about the hurricane’s impact. “Our law office is located in Hato Rey, which is north central San Juan near the coast in the financial district. Generators are running across San Juan. Many of our lawyers and employees commute from the south and west, which was crushed with flooding.”
Mikal Watts, of San Antonio’s Watts Guerra, said he’s not in Puerto Rico at the moment but his office in Guaynabo is closed this week due to flooding, with employees working from their laptops at their homes and focused on their families.
“We had landslides and flooding in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, where our offices there are located,” he wrote in an email. “The safety and well-being of our Puerto Rican lawyers and staff members is first in our hearts. They, and the firm, will get through the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona, without skipping a bit for our clients.”
John Driscoll, of The Driscoll Firm, said his San Juan office was running on a generator. Five of his 30 employees showed up to work on Monday, though they weren’t required to do so, and 20 appeared on Tuesday.
“The 10 who didn’t appear did have various issues, from no power, no water, significant flooding in their area,” he said. “It really kind of depends where people live on the island. Some parts of the island were affected more than others, and that explains the circumstances of the 10 employees who weren’t able to make it.”
Driscoll, who moved to Puerto Rico two years ago, said power is out at his home, but he has a generator. He had no running water on Wednesday morning.
Fiona, he said, was his first experience with a hurricane.
“Honestly, I can’t really quantify it, other than to say the wind wasn’t remarkable,” Driscoll said. “The amount of water it dumped in a short amount of time was pretty impressive.”
‘The rain was torrential everywhere’
Driscoll, whose firm previously was in St. Louis, Missouri, isn’t the only newly transplanted lawyer in Puerto Rico. With lucrative tax incentives and abundant labor, the island has become an increasingly popular location for law offices in the past several years. Many of the new entrants are plaintiffs firms, which hosted the first Mass Torts Puerto Rico conference earlier this year in San Juan.
Fiona is now headed to Bermuda, but the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has declared a public health emergency on the island. On Tuesday, the Federal Emergency Management Agency said it was sending hundreds of personnel to Puerto Rico.
Hurricanes are common in Puerto Rico. Five years ago, the island’s electric grid collapsed for months after Hurricane Maria hit and nearly 3,000 people died.
Maria cost $1 million in damages to the Puerto Rico office of Milberg Coleman Bryson Phillips Grossman, said Marc Grossman. Milberg, which has been in Puerto Rico for a decade, is “accustomed to dealing with hurricanes and adversity,” he wrote in an email.
This time, the office sustained no damages, he said.
“The issue,” he wrote, “is how long will it take for power to be restored, and will the generators continue to function until we get to that point?”
“Unfortunately, most of our staff are still without power and water, so they are coming to the San Juan office where we have a generator and are fully functional and where we have provided cases of water and other necessities for all our staff to take as needed,” he added.
Napoli Shkolnik’s Hunter Shkolnik said San Juan’s power outages are half restored at his office, but other major areas of the island have 90% of the population without power.
“For many that work for us the office is a welcome respite where there is electric, AC, water, internet, etc.,” he wrote in an email. Most of his firm’s workers are from the San Juan area and live in buildings with double generators.
Shkolnik said those areas took the brunt of the storm, but there were bands across the whole island.
“It was quite a sight to see,” he wrote. “The rain was torrential everywhere.”
Christine Schiffner contributed to this report.