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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Governor takes encouragement from FEMA administrator’s visit

“We will consider each family’s situation,” said the top administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “If the family has new damage from this storm, they will receive additional assistance.”

By Alejandra M. Jover Tovar

Special to The Star

The visit of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Deanne Criswell to Puerto Rico highlighted Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia’s agenda for Wednesday’s press conference held at the State Bureau of Emergency Management and Disaster Administration (NMEAD by its Spanish acronym) office in San Juan.

Criswell commended the work she’s seen between agencies, municipalities, public safety officials, and other organizations in response to the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona.

“This storm is personal to FEMA. We have hundreds of employees who call Puerto Rico home. I had an opportunity to visit our staff in all of our warehouses, and they suffered personal damages,” Criswell said, reading from written remarks. “Puerto Ricans, you are resilient, and I know you will come back stronger. We’re going to rebuild with FEMA and community organizations.”

“Some of you may remember that I was here weeks ago to see firsthand the recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria,” she added. “Now, I’m standing with you during the incredibly difficult aftermath of Fiona. Some of you feel you hit the reset button. … Those feelings are valid, but I can tell you you’re not alone. FEMA will be here in the months to come to take the steps on the road to recovery.”

Pierluisi reminded reporters that he submitted a request to the Biden administration on Tuesday for a major disaster declaration.

“I am confident that we will have a response from the federal government to begin that process as soon as possible,” he said.

As for the floods still affecting Puerto Rico, the governor said “we are already beginning to do damage assessments including places where there were projects underway to include new damage from flooding or landslides due to flooding.”

“We will do an aerial inspection of affected areas in Utuado and surrounding towns. We will then go to Jayuya to coordinate assistance in the mountain area,” he said. “The entire FEMA team, along with municipal teams, are attending to the emergency. Part of their function is to continue distributing water and food through municipalities, non-profit organizations, and private government.”

Asked about the people who received help under Hurricane Maria and if they would be eligible to receive it now, Criswell said “the major disaster declaration that the governor requested includes individual assistance, and we will work with families who have storm damage to make sure they receive the resources they need or to make the temporary repairs that would be permissible if they were eligible.”

“We will consider each family’s situation,” the federal official said. “If the family has new damage from this storm, they will receive additional assistance.”

On the same subject, Pierluisi added that “because of the nature of this hurricane, where we had and have had more rain damage than wind damage, the important thing is that people document the damages and as soon as the emergency management team comes together with FEMA or they go to one of the centers and request it; it does not matter if they have had a similar situation in the past.”

“It does not matter if the area is flood-prone or [if the applicant] has problems with the property title,” he said. “Of course, if there is applicable insurance, they have to apply for the insurance to compensate them. If anything, that would be the only thing they would have to do. But we will go case by case and on the personal property side, I don’t see any obstacles in the way.”

Meanwhile, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced that it is working with federal, commonwealth and local partners as they begin responding to Hurricane Fiona. EPA will work with other federal agencies under FEMA as it coordinates the federal response with the island government. FEMA has initially tasked EPA with helping the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assess drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

EPA Regional Administrator Lisa F. García said “we are working with other federal agencies to help ensure recovery is swift and will mobilize more resources as needed in the coming weeks.”

“Five years after Hurricane Maria made landfall, EPA’s work in the Caribbean is focused on long-term recovery, including solid waste management, drinking water, and wastewater infrastructure issues,” García said. “We will work to couple those ongoing efforts as we respond to the impacts from Hurricane Fiona.”

NMEAD chief to press corps: Tell us what you know about need in remote areas

NMEAD Interim Commissioner Nino Correa Filomeno said 12 communities around the island are isolated due to damage to bridges or roads. Still, he said, they aren’t without communication and are receiving the help they need.

“We urge you, as members of the press, to tell us about any report of an isolated area because we’re ready and working with every community,” Correa Filomeno said. “There’s a hundred nonprofit and faith-based organizations willing to help and with nothing to do, so instead of just reporting it, please let us know so we can help those people.”

The governor pointed out that 55 municipalities received 10 inches or more of water, wreaking havoc with potable water service.

“What has happened is that those runoffs have been enormous and have caused such turbidity in the water intakes that it would be irresponsible for the executive president [of the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority, Doriel Pagán Crespo], to provide water when it is not safe,” Pierluisi said.” We are being responsible; services will continue to increase, but we have to act as we are doing.”

Pagán Crespo added: “We have 58% of our customers with service. We have continued with the recovery of all the intakes and dams flooded by runoff; we are still working on cleaning and accessing some of our plants; today, we estimate that the recovery process will continue.”

“We have had some damage in some facilities, such as broken pipes and broken service lines, but we will keep working,” she said. “The environment is already more favorable for us to continue increasing activity.”

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