An audit by the US Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General found irregularities in the payment of $17.1 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency disbursed to nonprofit organizations for post-disaster work in Puerto Rico.
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.
The inequity in the federal response to both disasters becomes more evident if one compares that nine days after Harvey hit Texas, FEMA approved $141.8 million in individual assistance for victims, while nine days after María, that federal agency barely approved $6.2 million for survivors in Puerto Rico.
Of the 242 community aqueduct systems legally registered in Puerto Rico as franchises, 31% have not requested recovery funds for the damages caused to infrastructure by Hurricanes Irma and María in September 2017, according to data from the Government’s Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3). Although the reasons are different for each community aqueduct, not owning the land where the equipment and wells are located, the number of documents that the federal government requires, and the lack of orientation to those who administer these systems, are some of the causes for which these entities fall short of the requirements to apply for funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and COR3. As of this week, a total of 167 community aqueducts have requested recovery funds, said COR3 press spokeswoman Maura Ríos Poll. Of these, 150 have already gotten the obligation of the money, according to data from the COR3 website, and 21 of those have not yet received any disbursement. There are 242 community aqueducts recognized as franchises by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DRNA, in Spanish).
The area in the switchyard where the Central Costa Sur fire occurred, which caused the general blackout last Wednesday, should have been renovated four months ago, in December 2021, according to the original infrastructure plan through which the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) will access $10.7 billion in federal recovery funds. But, after LUMA’s arrival in June 2021, as operator of the transmission and distribution system, the processes were delayed. The completion date for the repairs at the plant was postponed to February 2023, according to documents from the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), that the Center for Investigative Journalism (CPI, in Spanish) reviewed.
Avería en breaker de salida de Unidad #5 de Costa Sur al 230kv ocasionó la salida de las unidades 5 y 6 de la Central. El sistema de protección del sistema eléctrico sacó de servicio el resto de las unidades que estaban generando. pic.twitter.com/ZFAR6GocY2— Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (@AEEONLINE) April 7, 2022
The recovery work in Costa Sur, Guayanilla, included replacing four switches of the 230-kilowatt transmission lines because they have already completed their useful life and are obsolete.
The corporation’s first reliability report confirms that it took almost twice as long to restore power to customers in its first quarter of operations, compared to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
The residents of the El Álamo neighborhood in Guaynabo, near the Los Frailes stream, have lived with epic flooding-related problems. After Hurricane María, the situation got worse. As a result of these floods, the municipality, under a court ruling issued after the neighbors sued, must have an excavator ready in the area every time it rains, said Mayor Ángel Pérez Otero. About 10 houses in the Meliá León sector, which are close to the creek, have also been affected by floods for more than three decades, according to resident Maritza Rosas, who has lived there for 62 years. The municipality, part of the San Juan Metro Area, has a mitigation project submitted for the consideration of the Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) to build a new bridge, which would solve the problems caused by the floods. The existing bridge, which connects to the complex comprising about 200 houses, backs up quickly because of its low height, the Mayor said.