FEMA acknowledges Puerto Rico lacks reconstructed houses and a healthcare facility to survive COVID-19

The Federal Emergency situation Management Firm faced tough questions Friday by legislators who stated Vieques still does not have an operating health center while thousands of other Puerto Ricans continue to wait for their homes to be reconstructed nearly three years after Cyclone Maria.

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez, D-N.Y., questioned FEMA Administrator Pete Gaynor on both matters as the firm gets ready for a stressful cyclone season in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic.

” Puerto Rico has a rise in infections that is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, on the mainland,” Velázquez stated throughout a Home Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing “However my question is why is it that countless households in Puerto Rico still do not have a house, specifically throughout this typhoon season?”

Gaynor responded by saying that while “there’s no easy responses,” FEMA’s commitment to Puerto Rico is demonstrated by the more than 2,000 federal workers the agency has on the island. He likewise added that Puerto Rico’s recovery is reliant on “a collaboration between FEMA, who does short-lived work to keep individuals in their houses” and the Department of Real Estate and Urban Advancement “to do permanent work on houses,” in addition to cooperation from the city government in Puerto Rico.

” I believe the collaboration with Puerto Rico, the governor and her staff has never ever been more powerful,” he stated.

Maria damaged approximately 800,000 houses on Sept. 20, 2017, triggering minor damage to some and sweeping numerous others from their structures. A federally funded program administered by regional authorities performed fairly little repair work to about 108,000 houses in 2018, while churches and nonprofits restored thousands with personal funds.

Puerto Rico’s first major program to rebuild houses hasn’t finished a single one even though 10s of countless houses still have actually harmed roofing systems almost 3 years after Maria. Miguel Soto-Class, creator and president of the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan think tank, approximates that about 20,000 individuals in Puerto Rico are still living under blue tarpaulins

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The program called R3, which is funded by HUD, is the biggest effort by the city government to carry out major repair work and rebuild damaged homes. Almost 27,000 property owners have actually used since federal funding to run the program was launched to the island a year and a half ago.

Puerto Rican authorities stated they are practically done fixing the first 45 homes set to benefit from the program, however no restoring task has actually been finished yet.

The sluggish progress in assisting Puerto Ricans without any homes post-Maria has become a symbol of officials’ failure to deal with the long-lasting impacts of catastrophes and crises hitting Puerto Rico, Velázquez stated.

Puerto Rico has actually been dealing with a waterfall of crises over the last couple of years as it continues to recuperate from Maria– which ended up being the deadliest U.S.-based natural catastrophe in 100 years after eliminating at least 2,975 people– while likewise working on getting out of the biggest community bankruptcy in U.S. history

Last year, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans marched in the biggest demonstration in its recent history to oust then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló over a political scandal involving him and a lots members of his Cabinet. Puerto Rico was hit by a seismic sequence that started Dec. 28, setting off numerous strong earthquakes that reduced numerous houses, schools and small companies in January. Since then, over 9,800 tremblings have actually been registered on the island

About 140,000 locals in Puerto Rico’s city are now subjected to a government-mandated water rationing as the island deals with drought conditions while also dealing with a renewal of COVID-19 cases

Over the past week, the variety of verified COVID-19 cases leapt by more than 1,500, while the number of probable cases increased by practically 1,330 The island of 3.2 million people reported nearly 4,800 validated coronavirus cases Friday, more than 9,100 probable ones and a minimum of 191 deaths, according to Puerto Rico’s Health Department

Gaynor said he was devoted to continue helping Puerto Rico and other U.S. jurisdictions as they face the coronavirus pandemic while still recovering from previous disasters. He said FEMA is funding approximately 550 recovery jobs monthly in Puerto Rico and has licensed using $25 billion to assist the island recuperate from numerous disasters– consisting of $395 million to assist Vieques restore its only medical facility, which was damaged by Maria.

The medical facility has actually not been reconstructed yet, despite the fact that the funds were approved in January.

” Seven months ago, money was approved for a medical facility that was assured to individuals of Vieques,” which is a smaller sized island located about 7 miles off the mainland of Puerto Rico’s eastern coast, Velázquez stated, adding that a 13- year-old woman lost her life during that time duration after lacking appropriate medical equipment and centers in Vieques, where she lived, to deal with flu-like signs.

” With the COVID pandemic, what are we stating to the kids and the senior in Vieques?” Velázquez stated.

Gaynor responded saying that the financing process for the healthcare facility is still in progress and they continue to work with local authorities on the job. In the meantime, they will continue to provide financing to keep a $4 million momentary healthcare facility running in Vieques.

José Ventura, cousin of the 13- year-old girl who passed away in Vieques, told NBC News in January that the facility was not well geared up to save her life when her symptoms aggravated and she started shaking.

” To construct a $40 million hospital does not happen overnight, however we are committed to make certain that we have adequate healthcare on Vieques, as long as it takes,” Gaynor stated.

” We are the most effective country worldwide and whenever there has actually been a natural disaster in other countries, we have actually moved federal possessions to make it take place. Make it occur for individuals of Vieques,” Velázquez responded.

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Image: Nicole Acevedo Nicole Acevedo

Nicole Acevedo is a reporter for NBC News Digital. She reports, writes and produces stories for NBC Latino and NBCNews.com.

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