How Is FEMA Preparing For Hurricane Season In Puerto Rico?
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin in San Juan, Puerto Rico. We've been reporting all week from the island, and today, we'll be looking at how Puerto Rico is moving forward - how the island is moving forward with preparations for another hurricane season and how it's moving on from the damage from last year's storms. As we're going to hear, that damage is physical and psychological. We're going to start by looking at how the federal government is preparing for another hurricane season. I'm joined once again by my colleague, Adrian Florido, who's been based here in San Juan since January.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: Hi, Michel.
MARTIN: So let's start with the official preparations - lots of focus on FEMA.
FLORIDO: Yeah, that's right. That's because it's played such a huge role in the recovery from Hurricane Maria. Many people think it failed to do enough after the hurricane. One thing is for sure - it was not ready for such a huge hurricane so soon after Hurricane Irma, which, remember, had just passed through the Caribbean less than two weeks earlier.
MARTIN: And wasn't part of the problem that, by the time Maria struck, FEMA had already run out of emergency supplies?
FLORIDO: Exactly. FEMA only had, at that time, one warehouse for the entire Caribbean, and all of the supplies in that warehouse had been sent to help the Virgin Islands after Irma. I actually visited that warehouse a couple of weeks ago, and I asked the man who runs it - Reynaldo Colon - I asked him what that was like.
FLORIDO: When you saw Maria coming, you looked around this warehouse, and it was empty. What was going through your mind?
REYNALDO COLON: I mean, wow. I mean, what are we going to do?
FLORIDO: So you knew it was going to be a problem?
COLON: It was going to be a problem.
MARTIN: And things look a lot different now.
FLORIDO: Right. I think he was there this week too, right, and the warehouse is so full that there's not even enough shelf space for it. It's sort of taking up little nooks and crannies in this 50,000-square-foot warehouse. There are tens of thousands of tarps in there, millions of liters of water, all kinds of ready-to-eat meals, as Colon told me.
COLON: In this facility, we have about 2.3 million meals. Now we have meals in Cayey, and we have meals also in Bayamon.
MIKE BYRNE: I recommend the vegetarian lasagna. It's actually quite good.
FLORIDO: So that guy you hear there is Mike Byrne. He's the top FEMA official in Puerto Rico. He was walking along on that tour with us. And he told me about all the other ways that FEMA has prepared. They've added three new warehouses across the island. They've prepositioned electric generators at facilities like hospitals and water pump stations. They're planning a full-scale exercise for later this month to test how distribution of all these supplies will work. But I asked him - you know, what still keeps him up at night?
BYRNE: It's the unknown. It's the impact that I can't - that I haven't been able to predict. We believe we've gamed this out. We've thought it through. But is it possible for Mother Nature to throw us a curveball and do something different? Yeah, absolutely, as we've seen.
MARTIN: So, Adrian, so we've seen the supplies, and that's one thing. But supplies weren't the only problem after Maria. Am I right?
FLORIDO: No, that's right. The communication systems completely failed, so the island's government has been installing satellite communication systems and also radio systems at hospitals. They also say they've been talking with gas stations and grocery store operators to make sure they don't run out of stock if there should be a storm. The Army told me it's better prepared to get its heavy equipment and helicopters to the island. So overall, officials are painting this picture of being as prepared as they could possibly be in case there is another big storm.
MARTIN: Now, that's interesting because I spoke to the mayor of a town called Humacao, Marcello Trujillo. Humacao was one of the hardest-hit areas, and this is what he told us.
MARCELLO TRUJILLO: We are not ready, and also, Puerto Rico's not ready. The electricity company's not ready for the next. And also, in our case, we have not received no money from FEMA, also from the insurance. They are fighting for that right now. Today, we just called FEMA, and we called the insurance company asking for the money.
MARTIN: So, Adrian, what about that?
FLORIDO: I mean, this is the sort of disconnect that you hear all across the island. You hear officials at the federal and central government level saying one thing - that they're as prepared as possible. And then, at a more local level in the cities and in barrios, you hear people saying we're not ready - either because we're still waiting on disbursement of money or insurance claims or because, hey, look at my house. There's still a blue tarp over it. If there's another storm, we're kind of screwed, right?
And you have to - all you have to do is look around at the tens of thousands of houses still without roofs to say, yeah, this is going to be a problem if there's another storm. The government still hasn't even finished restoring power to the entire island, and we're already into hurricane season.
MARTIN: That's Adrian Florido. Adrian, thank you.
FLORIDO: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.