FEMA: Puerto Rico Running Out of Time as Storm Season Nears - NBC 7 San Diego
Puerto Rico Recovers After Maria

Puerto Rico Recovers After Maria

Complete coverage of relief and recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, following Hurricane Maria

FEMA: Puerto Rico Running Out of Time as Storm Season Nears

"We're running out of time," a FEMA official said

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    FEMA: Puerto Rico Running Out of Time as Storm Season Nears
    Gerald Herbert/AP
    In this Sept. 28, 2017, file photo, debris scatters a destroyed community in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico.

    The administrator of the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency said Friday it will take up to an estimated $50 billion to help rebuild Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria and warned that the U.S. territory is not ready for another disaster.

    Brock Long said his agency aims to make the island's roads, homes, bridges and electrical grid as strong as possible but noted that the next hurricane season starts June 1.

    "We're running out of time," he said during a visit to Puerto Rico, adding that much of the island's infrastructure collapsed. "We have a long way to go."

    Long said his agency also is coordinating a June 14 planning and training exercise with Puerto Rico's government in which life-saving supplies will be delivered to the island's 78 municipalities to ensure better response times for any upcoming storms. Cities and towns will be allowed to store those supplies for future disasters.

    FEMA and local government officials already have stockpiled more than 15.6 million liters of water and more than 2.8 million meals in five warehouses across the island in the event of another disaster.

    Long stressed that Puerto Rico's public and private sectors have to build a strong emergency response network and establish unified plans.

    "FEMA cannot be directly responsible for all of the response and recovery," he said.

    He also said the private sector should ensure that communication systems become more resistant. Maria left nearly all of Puerto Rico without phone service after the Category 4 storm hit on Sept. 20.

    Long defended his agency from ongoing criticism that it did not respond quickly enough to the hurricane or dedicate the same amount of resources compared with other natural disasters in the U.S. mainland.

    "(That's) completely false," he said, adding that in the first six months since Maria hit, FEMA invested $10 billion in Puerto Rico, in contrast to the $6 billion invested in the six months after Hurricane Katrina.

    Catastrophic Damage in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria

    [NATL] Catastrophic Damage in Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria Pounds the Island

    Hurricane Maria caused widespread flooding and damage after pounding Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. Rescue crews have fanned out across the U.S. territory as it tries to rebuild amid an economic crisis.

    (Published Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017)

    He said his agency is working to reduce bureaucracy but needs to ensure that federal funds will be spent appropriately.

    "Recovery never moves as fast as people want it to be," he said. "And in this case, moving faster can be detrimental from the standpoint of putting this money to work in a manner that truly makes Puerto Rico stronger and more resilient."

    Mike Byrne, FEMA's federal coordinating officer in Puerto Rico, said he is working with the U.S. territory's government to determine how federal funds will be used to identify priorities and rebuild damaged infrastructure.

    Byrne said some of the money will go toward strengthening the island's power grid since the storm destroyed two-thirds of its distribution system. More than 50,000 power customers remain in the dark, but he said 96 percent of all customers now have electricity.

    "We've done the Band-Aid," he said. "We've patched the system back together."

    Long said the recovery process has been slow in part because supplies ranging from construction equipment to power poles have been scarce in light of the natural disasters that hit the U.S. mainland, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last year.

    Hurricane Maria Batters Puerto Rico

    [NATL] Hurricane Maria Batters Puerto Rico

    Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, bringing heavy rains and sustained winds of 140 mph.

    (Published Wednesday, Sept. 20, 2017)

    Officials said FEMA will have a presence in Puerto Rico for several years to help it rebuild.