Puerto Rico gov’s chief of staff: Slow response from US Defense Dept
SAN JUAN – The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requests for U.S. Department of Defense to urgently send resources to avoid a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico haven’t been met with an effective response, La Fortaleza Chief of Staff William Villafañe said Tuesday.
“There are federal government agencies that have not responded in a diligent manner,” Villafañe said.
In response to questions about which specific agencies, the chief of staff indicated that “the Department of Defense is responding too slowly.”
“FEMA has done all the pertinent processes to request help but we need the Department of Defense to act with greater urgency. Puerto Rico has medical patients and elderly people in places where there is not the slightest communications with aid stations. We’ve had to improvise a new aid protocols that I believe can alleviate the situation,” he added.
In an aside with Caribbean Business from the State’s Center of Operations, the official said that under the circumstances they have established a new action protocol assuming that all critical areas of the island lack all resources.
“We have a limitation of resources that we could be using to transport water and food to areas of need. We’ve had to change those protocols. Now we are intuitively providing supplies assuming everybody needs help,” he explained.
Villafañe said Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has been in constant communication with FEMA, “and they have been in communication with all federal agencies requesting more help,” but the response has not been what was expected.
On Monday, the governor warned the U.S. government about the possibility of a humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico in the wake of the problems caused when Hurricane María struck the island five days ago.
The worst storm in the past 80 years left floods, landslides, and many communities isolated; a collapsed electric grid; severely damaged telecommunications; 15,000 evacuees; at least 16 people dead; and the need to rescue more than 5,500 people.
After the hurricane, the lack of communication and access to certain areas left entire regions without sufficient water, food and fuel; and where there is access to these basic needs there are long lines of desperate citizens. The problems with telecommunications have also resulted in minimal access to cash because people are unable to withdraw from their bank accounts, unable to use credit cards and the ATM system is barely operational in the few open businesses.