Democrats to FEMA: What Is Your Plan for Hurricane Season Amid COVID-19?


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By Mivette Vega

May 28, 2020

Chuck Schumer and Nydia Velázquez file a petition taking into account an active hurricane season is expected, amid Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ unreadiness to face it.

San Juan — Senate Democratic Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez have written a letter with a petition to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Peter Gaynor, asking for their plans concerning the upcoming hurricane season.

Sixteen senators and 25 congresspeople signed the letter requesting clarification on FEMA’s preparations in response to this year’s hurricane season in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.

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In the petition, the Democratic federal lawmakers say they deeply hope Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands remain untouched this hurricane season. They stress the need to consider that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced on May 21 a 60 percent chance for the 2020 hurricane season to be above average.

“FEMA must be prepared for the worst. Not only are the islands still rebuilding from the devastating 2017 hurricane season, when Hurricanes Irma and Maria ravaged the islands’ people, electrical grid, and infrastructure. Puerto Rico has also been hit by thousands of earthquakes and aftershocks — the most devastating of which was a 6.4-magnitude quake that claimed the life of a 73-year-old man in Ponce,” the letter says.

The Democratic officials highlight a more complicated situation these days because of the coronavirus pandemic.

They emphasize neither territory is better prepared to face another hurricane than they were before Maria and Irma made landfall. 

“In fact, they are in a more vulnerable position. The power, water, and healthcare infrastructures on the islands are very fragile. For example, as a result of the January earthquakes, the Costa Sur power plant suffered structural damage that has caused a reduction of approximately 20% of available power supply for the whole island of Puerto Rico. Water availability on the islands is also in peril,” the lawmakers write.

The democrats also expose Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have not been able to adequately test their populations for COVID-19, as compared to other jurisdictions.

“Scientific experts believe that during the coming weeks Puerto Rico will start facing a shortage of reagents needed for PCR tests. The fragile stage of critical infrastructure on the islands is a recipe for a humanitarian disaster of unimaginable proportions to occur if the islands are hit with another hurricane in the coming months.”

The letter ends with a series of specific questions about FEMA’s response; answers are expected by June 8.

FEMA recently announced its operational guidance for the 2020 hurricane season amid the pandemic.

Within the guidelines, the agency emphasizes the use of masks and social distancing. It also asks local and state governments to identify available transportation for mobilizing citizens to shelters, among other recommendations.

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