FEMA approves $5 million loan to Ponce, Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
Related video: FEMA crews assess the progress of recovery in areas around Ponce, Puerto Rico. (By Paul McKellips – Oct. 4, 2017)
SAN JUAN — Ponce Mayor María Meléndez announced that as part of the recovery process after Hurricane Maria, the southern Puerto Rican municipality requested financing from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the form of a Community Disaster Loan, which is capped at $5 million, and was approved the maximum amount.
“The city of Ponce suffered serious and costly damages with the hurricane’s passage. With this loan we will be able to continue [providing] basic and essential public services; among them, health [and] safety services, domestic waste collection, and others,” the mayor said in a release.
Meléndez welcomed New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, with whom she spoke about Ponce’s recovery efforts in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, comparing notes with Landrieu, who was tasked with turning his city around after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“Katrina was a strong hurricane, just as Maria was in Puerto Rico; total recovery takes a long time,” said Landrieu, adding it took New Orleans eight years to recover.
In partnership with the Open Society Foundations network and New York-based consulting firm HR&A Advisors, Landrieu launched the Puerto Rico Mayor Exchange program on Feb. 6.
The initiative connects city leaders who have experience in dealing with disaster recovery on the mainland with leaders in Puerto Rico to provide support as the island continues to recover from Maria.
Landrieu will chair the Mayor Exchange along with Puerto Rico Mayors Bernardo Márquez of Toa Baja and Carlos Delgado Altieri of Isabela, and Open Society Foundations President Patrick Gaspard.
“The people of New Orleans know what it’s like to suffer through a disaster. When New Orleans has been in need after devastation, people from all over have helped lift us back up. This Mayor Exchange program allows us and other cities around the country to return the favor,” Landrieu said in a release Saturday.
As part of the program, each mainland mayor and one staff member will travel to Puerto Rico for a “daylong exchange program and each mainland mayor will host one to two island mayors in their city.” Landrieu led the first delegation on Feb. 25 and 26. Accompanying him will be Mayors Stephen Hagerty of Evanston, IL; Chris Cabaldon of West Sacramento, CA; and Jorge Elorza of Providence, RI.
Ponce is New Orleans’s partner city in this program. Additionally, Landrieu will meet with Mayor Bernardo Márquez of Toa Baja.
Other mainland mayors will follow in coming weeks and will also host Puerto Rican mayors in their hometowns. In all, an estimated 40 mayors will participate. Among them are Mayors Tom Tait of Anaheim, CA; Jim Brainard of Carmel, IN; Rahm Emanuel of Chicago, IL; Michael Hancock of Denver, CO; Sylvester Turner of Houston, TX; Toni Harp of New Haven, CT; Buddy Dyer of Orlando, FL; Jim Kenney of Philadelphia, PA; Bob Buckhorn of Tampa, FL; and Francis Suarez of Miami, FL.
“We understand very well what happened; the people of New Orleans suffered the same as the people of Puerto Rico,” Landrieu commented.
Landrieu visited the Brisas del Caribe community in El Tuque, where there are still homes destroyed by the hurricane.
“There is no doubt we have to refocus our efforts toward transforming the crisis into an opportunity to reinvent ourselves and integrate all sectors in the recovery,” Meléndez said. “We appreciate your interest in helping Ponce, I’m sure we can work together to achieve the well-being of our people.”
New Orleans has been providing support to Puerto Rico since Maria. In November, members of its Fire Department and Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (NOHSEP) were sent to support Puerto Rican emergency personnel in the transition from emergency response to emergency recovery efforts following the hurricane.
–CyberNews contributed to this report.