Exactly five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, another catastrophic storm is testing the federal government’s ability to mount a rapid response on an island exposed to its basic infrastructure and vulnerability to climate change.
The Biden White House has been rallying support since then Hurricane Fiona Heavy rains can trigger flash floods, landslides and power outages. The echoes of 2017, when Maria caused more than two thousand deaths and billions of dollars in damage, are still haunting local residents who are rebuilding their homes. Some people whose homes have been flooded may face having to start over.
“It’s a devastating rain, and it’s not going to stop,” Robert Little, the coordinator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on the island, told CNN’s Erin Burnett, as government relief efforts began to ramp up. “The FEMA team has stepped up since we got the call to come here.”
The Trump administration has been heavily criticized for its botched response and praised itself despite a tragedy that unfolded as technicians struggled to restore the power grid for months, with the effort from Maria creating an enhanced federal presence on the island. Although they seem largely ignored in Washington, Puerto Ricans are American citizens living in the American island territory and are entitled to assistance from the federal government.
Detailed storm damage assessments were being compiled as of Tuesday morning, but some residents said flash floods and mudslides were reminiscent of the devastation wrought by Maria.
The arrival of the latest hurricane is particularly brutal, as many Puerto Ricans have fallen on hard times since 2017, struggling through dark episodes of hurricanes, earthquakes, pandemics and political turmoil.
“It’s disaster upon disaster,” former San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”
Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluzzi told CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Monday night that while most of the damage five years ago was caused by hurricane force winds, the problem this time was the amount of rain. But even though the power grid was repaired after Maria, it wasn’t really upgraded, he said.
However, Pierluisi added, “We are much better prepared now than we were in Puerto Rico five years ago when Hurricane Maria hit us. To give you an example, FEMA now has four warehouses across Puerto Rico.”