One month ago, on June 1, the Atlantic hurricane season began, meaning that through November 30, Puerto Rico is vulnerable to be struck. As the island still rebuilds its structures, roads and electrical grid after 2017’s Hurricane Maria, residents and politicians fear what would happen if another storm hits.
On today’s (July 3) Morning Edition, NPR ran a report titled “'I Don't Feel Safe': Puerto Rico Preps For Next Storm Without Enough Government Help.”
“What happened in Maria can happen again,” the director of Puerto Rico's Bureau of Emergency Management, Carlos Acevedo said in the story that highlighted the grassroots-level disaster plans being put in place by people on the island.
Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. It caused a total blackout and the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.
Since then, recovery efforts have been slow. This has been exacerbated by a series of verbal attacks by President Donald Trump against Puerto Rican elected officials. As NPR reports, “Congress has allocated some $20 billion to rebuild houses and infrastructure and, although planning is going forward, very little of that money has been disbursed yet.”
Unlike with Maria, officials now have a disaster plan should a storm hit, reports NPR:
Acevedo says his agency has placed warehouses around the island stocked with emergency provisions. There's a plan for delivering fuel. Also, agreements with utility companies on the mainland to respond quickly to restore power after a disaster. Another major improvement is communication. All of the island's 78 municipalities now have satellite phones and radios to ensure they won't lose contact with the outside world as they did during Hurricane Maria.
But for many, the main concern is the state of people's homes. A FEMA assessment found nearly every building in Puerto Rico was damaged by the storm and may say their houses are not safe to shelter in.
The broadcast included residents of Toa Baja, a hard-hit town west of San Juan. "We haven't seen anything done in [our neighborhood] Toaville to make us feel safer," Marilian Vázquez told NPR. "The authorities haven't done anything to better channel the river water flow. We haven't seen any clean-up of the drain system. I don't feel safe."
In areas such as Toa Baja, where residents feel there has been insufficient government assistance, people are organizing to find other solutions. These include installing solar panels and opening non profit-funded health clinics and food banks. Pablo Méndez, a professor of environmental health at the University of Puerto Rico, said, "Some communities are rising up and not waiting for the support from the government. And they now have more confidence in making their own decisions."
Listen to the entire report here.