An analysis by CPI and The Post found that despite ample federal funding, less than 1 percent of the FEMA and U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) money slated for the island’s public water utility corporation since 2018 has been set aside to buy generators for water pumps. Local officials instead relied on a patchwork supply of emergency units but failed to get many in place ahead of the storm and supply them with enough diesel.
The Department of Transportation and Public Works informed that 16 bridges suffered damage after Hurricane Fiona struck, but a Center for Investigative Journalism investigation found that this number is wrong and that, from those 16, nine bridges had their strength and stability seriously or severely affected prior to the hurricane that hit Puerto Rico on September 18.
In the Bauta Abajo sector in Orocovis, in the central mountainous region, there are no power lines or poles on the ground. But 12 days after Hurricane Fiona, which produced devastating floods in southwestern Puerto Rico on September 18, the 1,308 people who live in this neighborhood are battling a storm of isolation and lack of electricity.
Since Hurricane Fiona struck September 18, the government of Puerto Rico has held more than a dozen press conferences, but in none has it provided information that helps victims and survivors of gender-based violence get specialized aid they need during the emergency, when they are most vulnerable.
Communities around the irrigation channels, whose conditions worsened due to the flooding caused by Hurricane Fiona, will continue to be at risk because there are no immediate solutions to prevent obstructions during extraordinary rainfall events, experts and the government of Puerto Rico told the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish). Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set aside $62 million in Hurricane María recovery funds for permanent work projects for this network of irrigation channels, the process is still in the design stage, one of the steps required by the federal agency to allocate the funds and, eventually, disburse them. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) submitted three permanent works projects to FEMA in October 2021 for the three irrigation districts it manages in Patillas in the South, Isabela in the North and Lajas in the southwestern coast. These structures belonged to the former Puerto Rico Water Resources Authority (PRWRA), created in 1941 to manage the reservoirs used for electricity generation. Irrigation channels are part of that system and now provide water for agriculture in those areas.
Hurricane Fiona’s first gusts were barely blowing when dozens of mayors had to improvise solutions. When they arrived at the locations that the government of Puerto Rico certified as shelters, they found they had no water tanks or power generators. At that time, a copy of Act 88 sat on a desk.
The day before Hurricane Fiona made landfall, Petra Rodríguez tried to turn on the power generator she had just bought, but it arrived damaged. She needed electricity to power the electric pump with which she feeds her 93-year-old mother, who is bedridden, and to operate the adjustable bed and inflatable mattress, which keep her from getting ulcers. Rodríguez (a fictitious name to protect her identity) recalled that she had received days before an announcement about a registry of people with special needs from the Municipality of San Juan in her mailbox. The woman registered her mother in the program that proactively offered her shelter and medical staff, before the disaster. On Sunday, September 18, when Hurricane Fiona caused a general blackout in Puerto Rico, the shelter she went to immediately turned on the power plant and her mother was able to operate her medical equipment.