With storm season approaching, questions swirl

by | Apr 3, 2018 | Congress | Comments

Lawmakers and members of the public alike are well aware of the devastation that Hurricanes Maria and Irma wrought upon Puerto Rico and other United States territories. Despite the signs of progress, such as the restoration of electricity to 93% of Puerto Rico’s residents, there are concerns that the speed of the recovery may not be enough to put American territories in the Caribbean in a position to be able to withstand the upcoming hurricane season.

Despite the recent proclamations of progress by the Army Corps of Engineers and its allies on the fight to restore Puerto Rico’s power, the pace of the rebuilding process has frustrated territorial delegates like Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colόn (R) of Puerto Rico and Stacey Plaskett (D) of the US Virgin Islands. At a recent hearing of the US House Subcommittee on National Security on the recovery efforts, Gonzalez-Colόn lamented the slow recovery efforts and stressed that Puerto Rico simply would not have been left without electricity if it were a state with full congressional representation. Gonzalez-Colόn goes on to explain in a tweet that over 100,000 of her constituents remain without power.

The Puerto Rican delegate’s sentiments were echoed by Delegate Stacey Plaskett of the US Virgin Islands. Plaskett’s constituency has, by most measures, been recovering at a quicker pace than Puerto Rico; 99% of the islands have had their electricity restored and the vast majority of debris has been removed. Despite this progress, the territory still faces quite a number of storm-damaged schools, hospitals, and residential areas awaiting repairs from the federal government. With much more left to go in the recovery of her constituency, Plaskett warns of the upcoming hurricane season (beginning June 1) and questions the federal government’s preparations for it at the aforementioned subcommittee hearing.

In the face of a slow recovery and a 2018 hurricane season that promises to be as disruptive as the last, federal government officials gave a non-answer for reassurance. A FEMA official who was at the US House Subcommittee on National Security hearing, Michael Byrne, acknowledged the ongoing recovery efforts and the steps his agency must take to protect the fragile stasis of the territories. Ultimately, however, he simply said that this coming year would be “rough.”