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FEMA moves forward with earthquake recovery efforts in Puerto Rico

Two years after the string of earthquakes that hit Puerto Rico at the end of 2019, the recovery continues with more than $523 million that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has allocated.

The funds are distributed among projects in 14 municipalities of the southern, western, and central parts of the island.

Among the structures with most damage due to the earthquakes were the schools on the area, many of which had the “short columns” structural problem, which makes them more vulnerable against seismic events.

To repair these and other structural damages in more than 126 schools, FEMA allocated an additional $178.3 million in 2021 to the Department of Education.

“Puerto Rico’s history changed because of these earthquakes. As of today, over 518 projects have funds from the agency, mostly for schools and municipalities. We seek to take advantage of this unique opportunity to strengthen the structures where public education is given and additional spaces within the affected area,” said Federal Disaster Recovery Coordinator, José G. Baquero.

In addition to repair and reconstruction work at the schools, public buildings and roads, the efforts include private property debris removal. More than 86 residences in Guánica and Yauco have already been demolished, to start the long-term recovery of these families, the agency said.

“The first step has already been taken, which is the demolition,” said Janet Vega Padró, resident of the Esperanza neighborhood in Guánica, who lost her home because of the earthquakes.

She added that she expects to begin rebuilding her home with the funds she received from FEMA.

Public safety funds
Public buildings like police stations, fire stations and judicial centers also received federal allocations for repairs. More than $8.4 million was allocated to the Public Buildings Authority to repair facilities on the municipalities in the area.

“We’ll continue to identify the help available to provide our staff of the DSP bureaus with better tools, work conditions and, therefore, be able to offer a better service to the people in case of emergency,” said Puerto Rico Public Safety Department Secretary Alexis Torres.

Meanwhile, Adjutant General of the Puerto Rico National Guard, General José Juan Reyes, said the experience with the earthquakes taught people “to be more proactive and prepared.”

“We acquired two [pieces of] equipment known as Western Shelters on the civilian version. FEMA acquired that equipment and we installed and enabled them this year. It’s a base camp with a 300-person capacity, but it has a washer, dryer, kitchen, through some containers and a tent cistern that are useful for any emergency,” said Reyes.

Puerto Rico Seismic Network Director Víctor Huérfano said the agency has introduced new technologies because of the earthquakes, while its seismic monitoring infrastructure was completely repaired after Hurricane María.

“FEMA helps us, the Federal Geological Survey also lends its support, as well as the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico. Fortunately, when the seismic events occurred, the monitoring infrastructure had already fully recovered. And we not only repaired it, [but we also] improved it,” he said.

Finally, Central Office of Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency (COR3) Executive Director Manuel A. Laboy said, “In 2022, we will continue working on the obligation of more than 200 projects estimated at more than $500 million in federal funds from FEMA; with those already obligated, we will begin the process of contracting engineering and architectural services, and others will begin the auction and reconstruction process during the first months of the year.”

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This story was written by our staff based on a press release.

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