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U.S. lawmakers introduce bill to establish Puerto Rico Hurricanes Commission

By on June 14, 2018

SAN JUAN – U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Reps. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Bennie G. Thompson (D-Miss.) introduced legislation Thursday to establish a “9/11-style” independent commission to investigate the federal response to hurricanes Irma and Maria in Puerto Rico.

Introduced in both chambers of Congress, the “The National Commission of the Federal Response to Natural Disasters in Puerto Rico Act” would create an independent committee charged with examining the government’s “preparedness and response” in Puerto Rico for the record-breaking storms.

Under the bill, the established commission would consider which factors could have affected the disaster response. These would include: death toll accuracy and methodology; federal preparedness guidelines issued ahead of the 2017 hurricane season; the “vulnerability of Puerto Rico’s economic situation; adequacy of the Island’s telecommunications; and the capacity of the Federal government to quickly mobilize and respond to disasters and emergencies in Puerto Rico,” according to a release.

The commission would also be tasked with examining “any potential disparities in the federal response to Puerto Rico compared with 2017 Mainland disasters.”

The lawmakers refer to Frontline’s reporting as an example that the government’s response was “slower and less effective” than in Texas after Hurricane Harvey, for instance.

“[N]ine days after Maria, just 1.6 million meals were delivered to Puerto Rico while 10.9 million were delivered in the same period after Irma struck Florida and 5.1 million to Texas after Harvey. Compounding a lackluster federal response was a series of botched FEMA contracts that delayed the delivery of crucial supplies such as tarps and meals,” the members of Congress say in the release.

“We now know from a number of studies and media reports that the death toll in Puerto Rico is likely staggeringly higher than the official count,” Velázquez, who authored the bill, said.

“Our legislation would look at how the Trump Administration’s feeble response to this disaster was shaped by the artificially low death toll, the inadequacy of the steps taken by the federal government in advance of the hurricanes and, equally important, what went wrong with the federal response in the weeks after the storms made landfall. Thousands of our fellow American citizens perished in this catastrophe. We need an independent, nonpartisan panel to fully investigate and bring all the facts to light,” she added.

Sens. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) co-sponsored the legislation.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

U.S. lawmakers question federal gov’t about hurricane death toll in Puerto Rico

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