FEMA Says It Has Disbursed $7.3 Billion to Rebuild Puerto Rico but Infrastructure Problems Continue


Image via AP Photo/Carlos Giusti, File

By Mivette Vega

September 16, 2020

The agency gave details on its funding for rebuilding the island after Joe Biden announced a reconstruction plan for Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN—This Sunday marks the three-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria passing through Puerto Rico and causing severe damage.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has defined the situation as “one of the largest and most complex disasters in the agency’s 40-year history.”

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FEMA said in a press release this Wednesday that nearly $7.3 billion has been approved to help rebuild the island, including the repair of infrastructure and historic buildings.

The Central Office for Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) has disbursed nearly $450 million to municipal governments to fund over 4,800 projects that aim to repair and rebuild roads, bridges, and public buildings. The funding also takes into account the repair of cultural treasures like theaters, town squares, and other important sites in the municipalities.

In March, Alex Amparo, FEMA federal disaster recovery coordinator for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, said the agency would not abandon the island until the rebuilding process is complete. At that point, $6.4 billion had been earmarked for reconstruction.

Tuesday’s FEMA press release was delivered hours after Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden announced an extensive rebuilding plan for Puerto Rico during his Florida visit.

Biden’s plan states his support for equal access to food assistance, Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. The candidate also mentioned considering legislation to reform the PROMESA law and address the political status of the island.

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FEMA funds have been allocated mostly in areas severely affected by flooding and landslides caused by the hurricane. 

The municipality of Utuado tops the list of assistance recipients, with 153 projects that include repairs as well as architectural and engineering design studies. 

Still, infrastructural problems abound in this area. Highway PR-10 in Utuado was closed on Tuesday due to heavy flooding. The local Hospital Metropolitano de la Montaña had to activate its emergency protocol after the flood. The municipality’s Río Abajo community also flooded, and three families could not leave their homes because of the situation.

According to FEMA, Utuado is currently in the process of procuring funds for repairs.

The municipalities of Jayuya and Villalba have also rebuilt roads. The mayor of Villalba, Luis Javier Hernández Ortiz, said that construction on a bridge serving the Cerro Gordo community will begin soon and have a life spain of about 70 years. “The project has an allocation of over $2.5 million and benefits more than 500 families,” he said.

Over $2.7 million in federal funds have been designated for the repair of police stations, command stations, and emergency systems. The grants include funding for these facilities in the municipalities of Aguadilla, Añasco, Arecibo, Cabo Rojo, Caguas, Hormigueros, Humacao, Las Marías, Maricao, Mayagüez, Orocovis, Ponce, and San Juan.

“The repairs to the police stations will help us maintain proper working conditions for the staff and citizens we serve. With FEMA’s collaboration, we’ve been able to improve the structures affected by Hurricane María and other emergencies that have affected our area,” said Henry Escalera Rivera, Puerto Rico police commissioner. 

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FEMA said in its release that approximately $153 million of the approved projects is designated to helping reduce the loss of life and property.

“Three years have passed since we faced an unprecedented event caused by the impact of Hurricane María. While there’s still work to be done, certainly in the last year we have made progress as far as the reconstruction process. We will continue to work diligently for as long as it takes to make the island stronger and more resilient,” said Ottmar Chávez, COR3 executive director.




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