Damage caused in Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria . (The National Guard)
More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria pummeled the Caribbean, the federal courthouses in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands remain closed indefinitely, officials said Wednesday.
Initial damage assessments have begun on the three buildings—located on St. Thomas, St. Croix and in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan—but the information is not yet validated, according to a spokeswoman for the federal General Services Administration.
“The buildings will be reopened when service is restored and it is safe to do so,” the agency said in an email. “At this time, we cannot predict when we will be able to reopen them.”
According to federal officials, 95 percent of Puerto Rico is still without power, and thousands of the U.S. territory’s residents have begun fleeing to Florida. The official death toll more than doubled from 16 to at least 34 Tuesday evening, shortly after President Donald Trump surveyed damage to the island. Meanwhile, recovery from the double punches of Hurricane Irma and Maria on the Virgin Islands remains slow.
Cases appealed from the District Court of the Virgin Islands are handled by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit in Philadelphia. A note on that court’s web site said that deadlines for nonemergency filings such as briefs or case opening documents in a Virgin Island case are extended to Oct. 20. Counsel in emergency or expedited cases should contact the clerk’s office as soon as possible regarding scheduling. It further states: “Notices of appeal must be filed in the district court. A district court may enter an order or make an announcement regarding the inaccessibility of a district clerk’s office that would impact the computation of time for filing notices of appeal. Motions for extension of time to file a notice of appeal must be made in the district court,” per federal appellate court rules.
On the website of the First Circuit in Boston—to which cases from the U.S. District Court for the District of Puerto Rico are appealed—is an advisory that states that nonemergency filings in a Puerto Rico case that were due to be filed between Sept. 18 and Oct. 31 are automatically extended to Nov. 1 “as long as the deadline is one within the court’s power to extend.” The note also cites applicable federal appellate court rules and says that the First Circuit will re-evaluate at the end of the month whether an additional automatic extension of case filing deadlines is necessary. Individuals looking for information about Puerto Rico cases referred for mediationare directed to another note.