Thursday, April 18, 2019

Agencies to be held accountable for slow disaster recovery in Puerto Rico towns

By on April 24, 2018

SAN JUAN – The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (Prepa), the  Transportation & Public Works Department (DTOP by its Spanish acronym), and the Highways and Transportation Authority (HTA) have five days to submit a report to the island’s Senate detailing the steps they took to speed up disaster recovery efforts for countryside towns in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz announced that the agencies will be held accountable for their “unsatisfactory” work. The Housing  Department must also respond to municipalities with a large number of impacted homes.

Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz, along with countryside mayors (Courtesy)

“We are going to have a report for each agency, for each municipality. We hope that in the coming days [the agencies] deliver it,” Rivera Schatz explained after a meeting with the mayors of Las Piedras, Cayey, Adjuntas, Ciales, Orocovis, Corozal, Comerio, Utuado, Barranquitas and Jayuya.

The greatest problem in the mountainside municipalities, their mayors said, was the lack of electric power seven months after María’s onslaught. For example, 20% of Comerío, 35% of Las Piedras and 50% of Adjuntas remain in the dark.

“If after the plan presented to the mayors we see they aren’t speeding up or are not adjusting to the commitment they made in writing to each of the towns, we are going to bring them here [to the Senate], we are going to question and they will have to answer,” Rivera Schatz said.

The Senate president could not specify the time frame the agencies have to comply with each municipality but reminded that the new hurricane season will begin in June, and requested that recovery work be sped up so residents can count on the provision of essential services ahead of the beginning of another period of uncertainty.

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The lack of electricity service adds to the government failure in the collection of debris, vegetative material and landslides, as well as in the construction of bridges, which has prolonged the difficulties that those who reside in remote areas face.

“The mayors here present have told us they are willing to collaborate, and they have said this so many times already that it seems to me it is time for the resources, the encouragement, the commitment of all the municipal governments and their respective mayors and municipal employees is taken advantage of,” Rivera Schatz said.

Adding to the concern over the pace of Prepa, HTA and DTOP’s work, the mayors of Comerío and Corozal, José “Josian” Santiago and Sergio Torres, respectively, said is the possible closure of schools in their towns, which would reduce the number of available shelters were another major storm to arrive.

Cry for help in the mountains

The mayor of Barranquitas, Francisco “Paco” López, was especially concerned about the emotional state of citizens–not only in the mountain towns, but throughout the island–who are still struggling to recover, and thus issued a “cry for help” to the administration for action to be taken and that essential services are restored.

“I have people and families who are going through this situation: the bridge to their house collapsed, they are living in a house covered by a blue tarp, they don’t have electricity and their school is going to be closed. Don’t tell me that doesn’t have an effect on the emotional state of a child, a father and a mother. This is happening right now in the mountains,” López stressed.

Ciales Mayor Luis Maldonado echoed other mayors when denouncing that DTOP Secretary Carlos Contreras “has not done the work he has had to do.” About 3% of the town’s population remains without power.

Representatives of the agencies convened by Rivera Schatz assured they provide the requested reports. The Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (Prasa) was not required to submit one because the mayors were satisfied with the utility’s work during the emergency.

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