Lawmakers press FEMA on restoring power to Puerto Rico
Lawmakers grilled federal officials Thursday over why power is still not restored to all of Puerto Rico six months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island.
“I just want you to imagine your own hometown here in the mainland without electricity for two months — three, four, six months without power, with also failing communications with the only assurance that ‘we are working on it,’” said Del. Jenniffer González-Colón (R-Puerto Rico), at a hearing of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Subcommittee on National Security, expressing frustration over the slow recovery.
“The people of Puerto Rico have been admirably patient and justifiably tired. If we were a state, we would have five congressional districts and two senators — no one would leave a state without power for six months.”
González asked Michael Byrne, assistant administrator for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Field Operations Directorate, what Congress can do to help ensure full restoration of power in the next 30 days.
“Quite frankly, have the trust in the unified command that has been in place for six months,” Bryne responded. “They’ve been able to do difficult things, and they have a plan now.”
According to reports from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), 93 percent, approximately 1.37 million of 1.47 million customers who could receive electric power before the storm hit have had their service restored as of March 18.
But that still leaves over 100,000 residents without power for six months.
“There is some shock on the island and dismay at the impression that the mission is winding down before the job is finished,” González said. “A rural, working family without electricity for six months does not want to hear of standard protocols or contract restrictions. They want to see full effort directed toward reconnecting every remaining home everywhere.”
Byrne’s answers didn’t appear to satisfy González or Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-Virgin Islands). The two lawmakers raised concerns about the upcoming tropical storm season this summer.
“We’re now several months ahead of hurricane season again. Predictions are that this hurricane season should be the same level of activity as last year’s. Does FEMA have in place prioritization for the hurricane season that is coming, knowing the compromised state that the Caribbean-Americans are in right now?” Plaskett asked.
“We are going to take extraordinary steps to make sure we have stuff in place, but I have to be honest, it’s going to be a rough year,” Brynes said. “There’s a fragile stability we’ve built and we’re going to need to take extra steps.
“We’re doing that,” he added.
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