Majority of Claimants in Puerto Rico Still Await for Assistance From FEMA, Many Found ‘Ineligible’

Armando Vega Martínez anxiously awaits for the day he can have a home again. The house in which he lived, among the mountains of the Guaraguao neighborhood in Ponce, was completely destroyed when an adjacent structure fell on it after succumbing to the powerful winds of hurricane María just over four months ago. To find a new home, the 69-year-old man has $13,000 that was recently awarded to him by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), to which he appealed for aid the same way as roughly one million people have done. “With that, nowadays you can’t even have two ‘zocos’ [or house pillars],” Vega Martínez assured, still struggling to verbalize what he experienced that September 20. “We have gone through hell.

Photographer Blocked by Homeland Security at Puerto Rico Control Board Session

Outside the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York, where a “listening session” of Puerto Rico’s Fiscal Control Board was held Thursday, federal police prevented a photographer with the Center for Investigative Journalism (CIJ) from doing his job and was prohibited from entering the building. Inside, the Board held a session called “The Future of Puerto Rico’s Energy Sector,” with an agenda that included some of the big players in the energy sector. For Puerto Rico, a U.S. unincorporated territory that has been trying to recover from the landslide of Hurricane María, the future of its public energy utility is at the center of its rebuilding process, with 40% of residents still lacking electricity four months after the passage of the storm. At the same time, the island’s governor Ricardo Rosselló recently announced his intent to privatize part of the utility, which is in the midst of a bankruptcy process under the so-called Promesa law, like the territory itself. In the morning, Homeland Security agents decided to put a barricade to demarcate a protest area after the demonstration had begun.

Four companies have separately proposed buying all of PREPA’s assets

The rush for the energy market after Hurricane María has been so high that three companies have separately made offers to buy all of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s assets. Francisco Rullán, executive director of the State Office of Public Energy Policy (OEPPE, for its initials in Spanish,) confirmed the information to the Center for Investigative Journalism, but he refrained from revealing the company’s identities, alleging that they are still in negotiations to offer services to the government. Still, Rullán admitted that before the storm a fourth company conveyed its interest in acquiring the utility: Texas-based Sunnova. This company is involved in a struggle with the public corporation, because it considers that PREPA has torpedoed its business of renting residential solar energy systems. Sunnova is being questioned by customers who claim they have not kept their promises of lower rates, and over the fact that their renewable equipment stopped working after the hurricane, due to lack of batteries, according to a CPI investigation. Rullán assured that Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s administration did not accept Sunnova’s proposal because he does not want a new monopoly like what PREPA already is.

Hurricane María Exposes Problems Within Puerto Rico’s Solar Panel Industry

Although her solar panels successfully sustained Hurricane María’s winds, Madeline Batista couldn’t turn on her lights, her refrigerator or other appliances that needed electricity. The photovoltaic system, installed at her Naguabo home by Sunnova, stopped working. It was connected to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) network, which was destroyed by the hurricane. Meanwhile, in the mountains of Adjuntas, community organization Casa Pueblo still had power. Neighbors sought help from the facility, the only place with power in town during the María emergency.

Puerto Ricans Displaced by Hurricane María Encountered Intolerable Conditions in NYC Shelters

On the morning of December 8, Nellyan Velázquez and her three-year-old daughter left Puerto Rico for New York, unaware of what their fate would be. After a long wait at the Prevention Assistance and Temporary Housing (PATH) building in the Bronx that lasted past midnight, a school bus arrived and took them to Brooklyn. Once in Brooklyn, they spent the night in a building without an elevator. Their room was “super disgusting.” The mattresses had no sheets.

US Army Corps of Engineers Chose Only One Company to Collect Majority of Puerto Rico’s Hurricane Debris

It happens every time Angélica Ramos leaves her home and walks towards Highway 185 in the Carruzos neighborhood: the images of junk, furniture, mattresses, pieces of wood and other debris continuing to pile up on the side of the road. Not far from there, in the area of Los Chalaos —right next to the bus stop and in front of an abandoned cockfighting stadium— the debris piles up as the days pass. Adrián López, who has lived in Los Chalaos for 30 years, says it’s the garbage since Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico on September 20. The 58-year-old López, who works as a systems analyst, says that cockroaches, mice, flies, mosquitoes and other kinds of insects are spreading all over the place. In Carolina’s Santa Cruz neighborhood, for 45-year-old Carmen Sánchez, Hurricane María destroyed a large part of her home, where she lives on the second floor.

Pesquera and Llovet in Charge of Death Toll Recount

Three months after the passage of hurricane María and after nine stories published by the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI), Gov. Ricardo Rosselló finally accepted that the process of accounting for the deaths caused by the disaster in Puerto Rico must be re-done and investigated “meticulously.”

The people in charge of this investigation will be the same ones who carried out the first defective accounting process: the Secretary of Public Safety, Héctor Pesquera, and the director of the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, Wanda Llovet, according to Rosselló’s Press Secretary, Yeniffer Álvarez-Jaimes. Pesquera has defended the process and insisted that investigating the excess of deaths on the island after Maria’s landfall is not necessary. Llovet has spoken little publicly, and has not amended the accounting process that maintains the official death toll at 64, even though her preliminary numbers confirm that from Sept. 20 to Oct. 30 there were at least 985 deaths in excess on the island when compared with 2016.