1 year after Hurricane Maria: Vigil held to honor lives lost

Clay Curtis
September 22, 2018

"There were policies and legislation that was instituted very quickly in the states of Florida and also in Texas right after those hurricanes and those natural disasters and the same did not happen in Puerto Rico", said Bermudez.

"This is historic. It's a historic failing", said Carmen Yulin Cruz, speaking on CNN's "Anderson Cooper Full Circle".

The mayor went on to criticize the Trump administration's response, calling it "structured negligence" that "allowed Puerto Ricans to die".

Many see FEMA's response as a proof of a passive, indifferent attitude toward Puerto Rico from the administration of US President Donald Trump. The exact toll is unknown.

WBUR's Simón Rios returned to Puerto Rico to report on the recovery effort one year out.

Carson, asked about the federal response to Maria, told Reuters the government "responded quickly", yet conceded "there were things that could have been better". The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed temporary blue roofs on almost 60,000 homes, and there are still tens of thousands of insurance claims pending.

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"There's no doubt about that, but we want to see speed and not haste", he said.

For Carson, the disbursement of HUD funds "paves the way for a speedy, long-term recovery", but he warned that the "path forward is challenging, and will be measured not in months, but rather in years". She also described, in detail, the troubles that have plagued the island territory since the storm began a year ago.

The storm knocked out power and communications to virtually all of island's 3.2 million residents, while destroying the homes of thousands.

Calderon added that the hurricane had raised Puerto Rico's profile on the national stage, only because before the storm, "Senators and congressional members they just have no clue whatsoever ... that Puerto Rico even existed, let alone obviously that these were American citizens". The San Juan mayor has noted that the island has seen only a fraction of nearly $50 billion in recovery funds Congress approved, including the $20 billion in HUD funds. The initial toll was listed as 64 deaths, but several studies since then have pegged the number as much higher, partly because in the storm's aftermath, ailing island residents were unable to get the medical treatment they needed because of blocked roads or lack of electrical power they needed for surgeries and medical care.

Last week, Trump disputed the new estimate, tweeting, "When I left the Island, AFTER the storm had hit, they had anywhere from 6 to 18 deaths".

"They would say, 'You may have damages, but this house is livable, '" Héctor M. Pesquera, the secretary of public safety for Puerto Rico, told the Times. During a forum held on Wednesday by the nonprofit Center for Investigative Journalism, community leaders urged for a multisectoral approach to the recovery, rather than a government-only-led effort, which has proven slow and full of missteps.

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