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Congress approves another round of hurricane, wildfire funding

By Ed O'Keefe October 24 at 6:00 PM
Congress gave final approval Tuesday to a $36.5 billion emergency spending plan to pay for ongoing relief from recent natural disasters — but lawmakers from storm-ravaged states are expecting more money the next time the White House asks for additional emergency funding.
The spending deal includes $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s response to natural disasters stretching from the storm-scarred beaches of Puerto Rico to the scorched vineyards of Northern California. The bill also forgives about $16 billion of the National Flood Insurance Program’s debt, freeing up money under its borrowing limit for additional loans; $576.5 million to address wildfires in the West; and $1.2 billion for nutrition assistance programs that will provide low-income Puerto Rico residents relief after Hurricane Maria slammed the island.
Aid for Puerto Rico dominated the latest round of emergency funding. More than 80 percent of the island still is without power more than a month after the storm, and concerns are growing that a failure to restore electricity and provide basic services to residents could cause a mass exodus to the mainland United States.
The Senate voted 82 to 17 on Tuesday to approve the spending plan, which now requires President Trump’s signature. The House overwhelmingly approved the emergency spending bill Oct. 12.

Several senators in both parties slowed consideration of the legislation in recent days, saying they expected more relief for their states or significant changes to the flood insurance program and other shipping and labor laws before final approval. None of those concerns derailed the bill, and the White House has assured lawmakers that their concerns will be addressed in the next round of emergency funding they expect to request next month.
Sens. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) and Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) are clamoring for money to help Florida’s distressed citrus industry after Hurricane Irma battered the state. The state’s agricultural industry sustained more than $2.5 billion in damages, including more than $760 million in the citrus industry alone, according to Nelson’s office.
“It’s not an industry that benefits from anything extraordinary from the government. They literally are on the verge of going away unless we help them sooner rather than later,” Rubio warned Monday.
Meanwhile, Sens. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) and Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) were pushing for more money to help communities upended by Hurricane Harvey, and they threatened to hold up Tuesday’s vote. But last week, they relented when given assurances by the Trump administration that Texas’s concerns would be better addressed in the next funding request. Despite those assurances, Cornyn is blocking a vote to confirm the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget as leverage.
“Promises were made from OMB to fully support Texans as they continue to recover from Hurricane Harvey, and he’s going to make sure those promises are kept,” a Cornyn spokeswoman said.
A handful of Republicans withheld their support because the bill does not offset the emergency spending with cuts elsewhere in the federal budget or because the bill failed to revamp the flood insurance program — a longtime pursuit of conservatives.
“Instead of helping the victims of these disasters through responsible aid paired with lasting reform, Congress has rushed to its favorite solution: billions in new spending, with little accountability or oversight,” Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) said in a Senate floor speech Monday evening as he announced his opposition.
 

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New Hampshire prepares to ship 200 tons of food, water to Puerto Rico

State donation effort brings in 500 pallets of goods for hurricane relief

CONCORD, N.H. — Two hundred tons of food and water are on their way to Puerto Rico thanks to New Hampshire residents.

The donations were collected by state employees, who donated their time to help the effort. The items are headed to New Jersey, where they will be taken by barge to the island.

Gov. Chris Sununu said he hoped that the donation effort would bring in 150 pallets of food and water. In the end, more than 500 pallets were donated.
"It is kind of overwhelming, the volume of stuff that we'll be able to send down there," said Matt Hotchkiss of the state Department of Homeland Security.
The donations would fill 17 tractor-trailers and include 350,000 pounds of food and nearly 300,000 bottles of water. Most of the goods were collected by state employees during a two-day drive in early October.
Hotchkiss is one of the employees who donated time to the effort.
"It's been a great collective effort from a lot of different state agencies and state employees," he said.
Officials said 189 state employees volunteered more than 1,500 hours.
"Every can was date-checked," said Perry Plummer, director of Homeland Security. "It repacked, shrink-wrapped, tied together and ready for shipping."
It has been more than a month since Hurricane Maria pummeled the island. Sununu said he spoke with the island's governor two days ago, and the need remains great.
"There are areas of Puerto Rico that will not have power for months and months and months, and it's truly a life-changing event for those citizens," Sununu said.
While some in Puerto Rico have criticized the federal government's response, Sununu praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
"Given what FEMA has had to deal with, it has been a tremendous effort on the national level, and we can't say enough, frankly, about FEMA and their response," he said.
Once the goods leave the warehouse in New Hampshire, FEMA will pick up the costs of transporting them to Puerto Rico, officials said. Federal officials said the food and water should be in Puerto Rico by the first week of November.
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Stony Brook Medicine volunteers head to Puerto Rico to help

Updated October 24, 2017 7:13 PM
By Lisa Irizarry [email protected]

Health care professionals from Stony Brook Medicine pose for a group photograph on Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2017, before departing for Puerto Rico to help with relief and health services. Photo Credit: Daniel Goodrich


A team of doctors, nurses and specialists from Stony Brook Medicine headed to Puerto Rico on Tuesday for two weeks to help people still suffering after Hurricane Maria and to relieve other medical personnel there.
The 23-member group of volunteers — part of a regional team of about 75 health care professionals in the state — includes specialists in emergency medicine, surgery and pediatrics.

Dr. Richard Scriven, a pediatric surgeon and Emergency Medical Service specialist at Stony Brook, said the effort represents just the type of opportunity he went to medical school for.
“It’s really gratifying to help others — helping people in need as a physician,” said Scriven, 52, as he was waiting for the plane to depart from Kennedy Airport. “After 30 years [as a doctor], it rejuvenates the sense of why I wanted to go into the medical field initially.”
Scriven said he expects to work 12-hour days for the length of the trip.
“I’ve been on surgical missions in Ecuador and Africa, but no disaster relief missions,” he added.
An agreement between all 50 states and Puerto Rico and Guam allows participants to request medical assistance in disasters, according to Eric Niegelberg, associate director for emergency services and medicine at Stony Brook.
New York “mobilized resources that Puerto Rico said would be helpful,” Niegelberg said. Other members of the New York State group that left Tuesday include staff from New York-Presbyterian Hospital and the University of Rochester Medical Center, he added.
The Stony Brook team will help relieve another group of 77 New York State health care professionals that will return on Thursday after a roughly two-week stint.
About 100 Stony Brook staffers volunteered for the trip, according to a hospital spokesman, Greg Filiano, adding there was a great desire to help.

NationPuerto Rico's dire situation: How to help

Scriven said some members of his team will stay in a closed wing of a Puerto Rico hospital, while others will stay in tents.

Others on the Stony Brook team include Dr. Rolando Valenzuela, an emergency medicine specialist who has extensive international emergency medicine relief mission experience; and Amanda Eloma, a pharmacist who brings expertise to determine the medication needs in Puerto Rico.
 

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Resources available in Monroe County for Hurricane Maria evacuees


by WHAM
Monday, October 23rd 2017

Rochester, N.Y. - Help is available for Puerto Rican families who evacuated the devastation following Hurricane Maria and have come to Rochester.
On Monday, Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo joined the Ibero American Action League and other public and private partners to talk about the resources available.
Those resources include SNAP benefits, public assistance and medical and housing assistance.
For more information about the resources available, visit the Monroe County website.
 

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Secretario de Estado eleva a Casa Blanca su molestia sobre pasaportes

October 25, 2017 El secretario de Estado, Luis Gerardo Rivera Marín, se comunicó con la Oficina de Asuntos Intergubernamentales de la Casa Blanca, para expresarle su molestia en términos de la renuencia del Departamento de Estado federal de reanudar los servicios de la Oficina de Pasaportes en Puerto Rico.
“Ayer en la mañana me comuniqué con la Casa Blanca y les transmití mi inconformidad de que la Oficina de Pasaportes del Departamento de Estado federal haya determinado que, debido a su desconfianza en el Servicio Postal de los Estados Unidos en la Isla, no se nos permita reanudar los servicios en nuestra Oficina de pasaportes de Plaza Las Américas, que ya está lista para funcionar. El gobierno de Puerto Rico ha estado y está trabajando mano a mano con el Gobierno federal y no puedo aceptar que esta decisión empañe el apoyo que hemos recibido de la propia Casa Blanca y de todas las agencias federales”, dijo el Secretario. Agregó que la Casa Blanca se ha comprometido con la ayuda a Puerto Rico y éste es un asunto que hay que atender con la misma agilidad que los demás.
Desde el pasado 17 de octubre, en carta dirigida al secretario del Departamento de Estado federal, Rex Tillerson, Rivera Marín levantó la voz de alerta en torno a la determinación de la agencia federal de suspender el trámite de solicitar pasaportes en la Oficina de Pasaportes de Puerto Rico por alegadamente no estar seguros de la entrega de los libros de pasaportes por parte del Servicio Postal en la Isla.
 

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Emergency Manager to Be Installed at Puerto Rico Power Utility

Sources say oversight board looking to eventual privatization of Prepa

By Andrew Scurria

Updated Oct. 25, 2017 4:36 p.m. ET 3 COMMENTS


U.S. officials supervising Puerto Rico’s finances are installing an emergency manager at the island’s public electricity utility, in an attempt to course-correct a disaster response that has come under congressional scrutiny.
Puerto Rico’s financial oversight board is appointing the emergency manager to take over the public electricity monopoly, known as Prepa, with an eye toward its eventual privatization, according to people familiar with the matter. The maneuver would largely wrest control of the utility away from its board of directors and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.
More than a month after Hurricane Maria knocked out power to all of Prepa’s customers, service has been restored to roughly a quarter of them. Prepa’s contracting decisions in the wake of the storm, including its use of a tiny Montana-based firm to rebuild power lines, have raised concerns among members of Congress about the utility’s management.
A spokeswoman for Mr. Rosselló didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. But the governor favors keeping the utility under local control and is expected to resist ceding authority to the oversight board, the people familiar with the matter said. Awash in $9 billion in debt, Prepa entered a court-supervised bankruptcy in July to restructure its obligations.
The situation is the latest power struggle between the governor and the oversight board over Puerto Rico’s financial rehabilitation. Before Maria hit, the two sides were tangling in court over whether the board could order furloughs of public employees and impose other austerity measures.
The storm knocked out aboveground distribution lines across Puerto Rico, triggering a humanitarian crisis that has exacerbated the U.S. territory’s precarious financial position.
Lawmakers are now scrutinizing spending decisions during reconstruction efforts. Members of Congress from both parties are calling for investigations into a $300 million contract awarded to a Whitefish Energy Holdings LLC, a two-year-old company that had two full-time employees when the storm hit last month. Oklahoma-based Cobra Acquisitions won a $200 million contract.
Gov. Rosselló said Tuesday after Hurricane Irma hit, the government had reached out to contractors and of those Whitefish was the only one that did not require substantial cash upfront. He said he ordered the island’s Office of Management and Budget to review Prepa’s contracting of repair crews and to report its findings to the Puerto Rico comptroller. “All procurement processes will be audited,” he said.
Congressional leaders and White House officials privately called on the oversight board to take on more responsibility from the governor, a person familiar with the matter said. Compounding the challenge of restoring power are the antiquated conditions of the grid, which Prepa Chief Executive Ricardo Ramos has said could cost more than $5 billion to repair.
President Donald Trump’s administration has directed the Army Corps of Engineers to help guide the effort to rebuild the electricity grid. A task force that includes the agency as well as the Energy Department and the Puerto Rican government is working to assess damage and develop a plan.
Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday passed legislation that extends emergency credit to Puerto Rico and provides $36.5 billion in hurricane relief for affected areas across the U.S., including $18.7 billion to replenish the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The island’s power plants weathered the storm without suffering major damage, but the network of 2,400 high-voltage transmission lines and 31,000 miles of low-voltage distribution lines, which deliver power to homes and businesses, took a beating.
—Arian Campo-Flores contributed to this article.
 

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Senado de EE.UU. aprueba $36,000 millones para emergencias

Tue, Oct 24, 2017
Featured, Gobierno


Por redacción de Sin Comillas

El Senado de Estados Unidos aprobó $36,000 millones en ayuda para emergencias billones para emergencia. La medida incluye $4,900 millones en préstamos para los gobiernos de Puerto Rico e Islas Vírgenes de Estados Unidos y $16,000 millones para reducir la deuda del programa de seguro contra inundaciones de la Agencia Federal para el Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, por sus siglas en inglés).La medida, aprobada con 82 votos a favor y 17 en contra, pasa ahora para la firma del presidente de los Estados Unidos, Donald Trump.
El Proyecto de Asignaciones Suplementarias para Desastres que asignaría $36,000 millones para gastos de recuperación por los huracanes María, Irma y Harvey, y los incendios en la región oeste de los Estados Unidos, se divide en: $13,770 millones para fondos de manejo de desastres; $4,900 millones para el “Community Development Loan Program”; $16,000 millones para el Programa Nacional de Seguro por Inundaciones; $1,300 millones para el programa Disaster Supplemental Nutrition para Puerto Rico.
Esta es la segunda inyección de fondos que aprueba el Congreso de Estados Unidos para los esfuerzos de recuperación de desastres. La primera aprobó $7,000 millones a FEMA para lidiar con el impacto de los huracanes Irma y Harvey, $450 millones para los programas de desastres de la SBA y $7,000 millones para vivienda en los estados afectados por el huracán Irma.
“Agradecemos a los líderes de ambas cámaras por haber reconocido con prontitud las necesidades de los 3.4 millones de ciudadanos americanos que residen en Puerto Rico tras la de,” sostuvo el gobernador Ricardo Rosselló.
De obtener la firma del presidente Trump, Puerto Rico contaría con aproximadamente $6,200 millones para esfuerzos de recuperación tras el paso de los huracanes Irma y María. No obstante, se espera la inclusión de Puerto Rico en un próximo vehículo legislativo en noviembre, que complementaría las medidas ya aprobadas, dijo el Gobernador.
“Vivimos una situación sin precedentes, y esperamos una respuesta sin precedentes, confiamos en que continuaremos contando con el apoyo del Congreso y la Casa Blanca en la recuperación de nuestra la Isla tras la devastación causada por estos fenómenos naturales”, concluyó el primer ejecutivo.
Por otro lado, el martes, el Subcomité de Supervisión e Investigaciones del Comité de Energía y Comercio de la Cámara federal, estudió la respuesta del Departamento de Salud federal a las emergencias provocadas por la temporada de huracanes este año. El Comité le extendió una invitación a la comisionada residente, Jenniffer González Colón, para que estuviera en la vista de hoy, a pesar de no ser miembro del comité, a raíz del impacto de los huracanes Irma y María en Puerto Rico. La comisionada trabajó con los miembros de su delegación para cuestionar a los panelistas, entre los que estuvieron el doctor Robert P. Kadlec, M.D. Secretario Adjunto para Preparación y Respuesta del Departamento de Salud federal; doctor Scott Gottlieb, comisionado de la Administración federal de Drogas y Alimentos del Departamento de Salud; Kimberly Brandt, Subadministradora principal de Operaciones para los Centros de Servicios de Medicare y Medicaid; y el almirante y doctor Stephen C. Redd, director de la Oficina de Respuesta y Preparación de Salud Pública de los Centros de Control y Prevención de Enfermedades.
Sobre el reembolso a los hospitales y proveedores de salud por los servicios médicos prestados, se pidió que se pueda eliminar para Puerto Rico el tope que se recibe en esos reembolsos. Hoy, esa proporción es de 55% el gobierno federal y 45% el gobierno de Puerto Rico lo que significa que para poder pagar esos proveedores, el gobierno local tiene que proveer el 45% del dinero. La comisionada pidió que se eximen en un 100% en esa formula o que se trate a Puerto Rico igual que a los estados al recibir sobre un 80% por parte del gobierno federal.
González Colón anunció que este viernes llega a Puerto Rico junto a una delegación de congresistas. La comisionada busca llevar a la delegación fuera de la zona metropolitana para que sean testigo de la devastación y puedan seguir aunando esfuerzos en la búsqueda de fondos y acciones federales.
La delegación está compuesta en parte por el líder de la Mayoría en la Cámara de Representantes federal Kevin McCarthy, el portavoz alterno demócrata Steny Hoyer, el presidente del Comité de Recursos Naturales Rob Bishop, con quien la comisionada se reunió hoy para discutir varios asuntos como el nuevo rol de la Junta de Supervision Fiscal, Anthony Brown y Jeff Denham. Visitarán el estado de la Florida, donde los acompañará Carlos Curbelo y las Islas Vírgenes donde estará Stacey Plaskett.
 

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También en Puerto Rico hay “Dreamers” sujetos al plazo para renovar “DACA”

270 jóvenes indocumentados con domicilio en Puerto Rico solicitaron protección de la deportación bajo el programa de “acción diferida”

Por: María Peña 05 octubre 2017


WASHINGTON.- Más de 200 jóvenes indocumentados, la mayoría procedente de América Latina, solicitaron protección bajo el DACA de 2012 desde Puerto Rico, un territorio estadounidense, y muchos de ellos afrontaban este jueves el plazo para la última renovación de sus permisos, según datos oficiales.
Los puertorriqueños son ciudadanos estadounidenses y, por lo tanto, no tienen trabas para la búsqueda de empleo o la obtención de beneficios públicos.
Sin embargo, según datos proporcionados hoy a este diario por la Oficina de Servicios de Inmigración y Ciudadanía (USCIS, en inglés), 270 jóvenes indocumentados con domicilio en Puerto Rico solicitaron protección de la deportación bajo el programa de acción diferida (DACA) de 2012.
De éstos, los dominicanos conforman la mayor parte de beneficiarios de DACA en la isla, con un total de 160.
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Puerto Rico's power outages are the largest in US history, report says


By Eric Levenson, CNN
Updated 2:02 PM ET, Thu October 26, 2017

Story highlights

  • Hurricane Maria's power outages are larger than Sandy and Katrina
  • Puerto Rico was hit by both Hurricane Irma and Maria this summer
(CNN)In terms of the total number of lost hours of electricity, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in the midst of the largest blackout in US history, according to a report from an economic research company.

In all, Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, according to the analysis from the economic research firm Rhodium Group. That makes it the largest blackout in US history, well ahead of Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the group said.
That 1.25 billion number will continue to grow. More than a month after Hurricane Maria knocked out the electric grid on the islands, the vast majority of residents remain without electricity, and the restoration of that power is months away.

The Rhodium Group analysis largely relies on data on electricity loss provided to the Department of Energy, as well as news reports for storms prior to 2000, according to Trevor Houser, a partner at Rhodium who co-wrote the analysis with Peter Marsters.
Houser said the group analyzes the economic impacts of weather and climate events, and they decided to dig in more deeply on the impacts of Maria on the Puerto Rican economy.

"As we started looking at the scale of the blackout and try to put that in historical context, it became clear this was a record-breaking event and worthy of some attention and focus just from an electric standpoint," Houser said.

Other major storms or incidents have knocked out power for more people, but those were for shorter periods of time.
For example, the 2003 blackouts in the Northeast US affected about 30 million people, but the power was restored within a few days. That incident caused the loss of 592 million customer-hours of electricity, according to Rhodium Group, making it the eighth-largest blackout in US history.
Puerto Rico has a smaller population -- about 3.4 million -- but the blackout has lasted for a much longer stretch of time. As of Thursday, just 26% of households had power restored, according to data from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA).
PREPA, a state-owned utility, filed for bankruptcy in July, is $9 billion in debt and is struggling to recover from the hurricane outages. Not coincidentally, several of the top 10 blackouts in US history involve Puerto Rico, including Maria and Irma this year and Hurricane Georges in 1998.
Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old utility firm with ties to the Trump administration, was awarded a $300 million contract from PREPA last week to help restore the country's power grid. The huge contract to a small company has led to questions and criticism from Puerto Rican politicians.



The Virgin Islands, with a much smaller population, has similarly struggled to restore power since Hurricane Maria. As of October 22, just 14.9% of customers had power, according to the U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority. That includes about 71% without power on St. Thomas, 98.4% without power on St. Croix and 100% without power on St. John.
Aside from the 2003 blackout, all of the biggest blackouts in US history were due to hurricanes or major storms, including Hurricane Hugo in 1989, Hurricane Ike in 2008, and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
This year's hurricane season has been particularly destructive. Hurricane Irma, the Category 5 storm that tore through the Caribbean before hitting Florida in early September, caused the loss of 753 million hours of electricity, making it the fourth-largest blackout in US history.
In general, most power outages are due to disruption in the power lines that deliver energy, rather than in energy generation, Houser said. Hurricanes, with their high sustained winds and wide geographic area, are particularly likely to knock out power for large numbers of people.
 

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New Jersey National Guard joins Puerto Rico recovery

Anthony V. Coppola, @AVCoppola Published 11:12 a.m. ET Oct. 25, 2017 | Updated 1:31 p.m. ET Oct. 25, 201


AP Top Stories October 25, 2017Here's the latest for Wednesday, October 25th: Arizona Senator Flake retiring from Senate; Sec. of State Tillerson in India; Cleveland police officer on the run kills self; Montreal man ticketed for loud singing. AP


(Photo: Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer)

VINELAND - One by one, around 30 members from the New Jersey National Guard's 119th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion tossed their gear in the back of a tactical truck.
The guardsmen gathered at the Vineland Armory on South Delsea Drive long before the sun rose Wednesday morning.
Their destination: Puerto Rico.
Their mission: up to two months lending aid on the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria in September.

"What’s cool is that the National Guard provides unique capabilities to help complement the efforts in Puerto Rico, so whether it’s distribution, security, or just logistical support, these guys and gals can handle all of that stuff," Chief Warrant Officer 3 Patrick Daugherty said.
Those who departed Vineland on Wednesday will join 150 other New Jersey National Guard guardsmen already on the ground in Puerto Rico.
Daugherty said the state's National Guard has been very active this year providing hurricane relief in Texas, Florida and the Virgin Islands.
“We’ve been, as an organization, pretty involved in all these responses,” Daugherty said. “And what’s cool about that too is, during (Hurricane) Sandy, the state had a lot of help from other state National Guards, they came in to help us. So now that other places are affected, they fill out these requests and now we can go help them."

Sgt. 1st Class William Richmond (left) addresses troops of the 119th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion prior to departing Vineland to help with Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, October 25th, 2017. Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer
Lifting the spirits of those in need is one benefit for the troops putting their families and civilian lifestyles on hold in the coming weeks.
Capt. Chris Lunceford, of Downe Township, is part of that group.
“Getting to help people, that’s the best part about the job,” Lunceford said. “Once you’re out there and see the circumstances other people are living through and their conditions, it just makes you feel better that you were able to help them.”
Lunceford, the company's commander for two years, said one of his main roles will be to join the planning team to develop missions for supplies distribution.
Members of the battalion have already experienced a wide array of situations, from serving in Iraq to assisting in Florida for Hurricane Irma.
That makes the team prepared for whatever comes its way.
"It’s a different response based off if you’re going into a war zone versus an emergency domestic situation,” Lunceford said.

The 119th Combat Sustainment Support Battalion departed from Vineland to help with Hurricane Maria relief efforts in Puerto Rico on Wednesday, October 25th, 2017. (Photo: Adam Monacelli/Staff Photographer)

Sgt. 1st Class William Richmond, of Upper Deerfield, was busy Wednesday morning prepping the troops before their pre-flight bus ride to Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst.
Richmond, who was transferred to Vineland 18 months ago after serving with the 328th Military Police Company in Cherry Hill, handles organization, planning and administration for the unit.
Richmond said the team was notified Sept. 27 it would be deployed to Puerto Rico.
"We're going down there to help and assist with logistics and the movement of food, water and stuff like that," said Richmond. "I was deployed three times previously with the National Guard — I did two tours in Iraq, one in Cuba. Those were different than this."
The National Guard's work will surely be welcomed in Puerto Rico, where water is scarce and the island's electrical grid remains in shambles.
The guardsmen boarded the bus not long after 6 a.m. with their flight scheduled to leave around 11 a.m.
None of the men and women appeared fazed by the task before them.
"They signed up for a reason and to them this is just normal," Daugherty said of the troops.
 

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Habitat for Humanity preps relief kits for Puerto Rico

Habitat for Humanity volunteers team up to prepare shelter relief kits for Puerto Rico

Author: Liza Lucas , WXIA
Published: 6:51 PM EDT October 24, 2017

As families in Puerto Rico work to rebuild their lives, an assembly of Habitat for Humanity volunteers is working to make the rebuild process a little easier.
Volunteers rallied in Covington Tuesday to put together 2,000 shelter repair kits including 5-gallon buckets of hammers, nails, gloves and more.
The project is part of the nonprofit’s #HabitatHammersBack campaign for hurricane relief.
‘Habitat is also present on the ground in Puerto Rico,” volunteer Nevil Eastwood said. “We have a local habitat entity in Puerto Rico, and we work closely with them to find out what houses need repairs, and we work on that as far as materials that went in the kits.”
Once complete, the kits will be shipped to Puerto Rico with the hope families can begin small repairs and return home.
“Habitat has a real good role to play in Puerto Rico," Eastwood said. “We have good history and certainly we can make good impact on the families there.”
In addition to the shelter repair kits for Puerto Rico, Habitat for Humanity is also assisting more than 2,000 families in both Texas and Florida as part of hurricane response.
© 2017 WXIA
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Whitefish Puerto Rico contract stirs controversy

By Timothy Cama and Devin Henry - 10/28/17 10:33 AM EDT 297
139

A massive rebuilding contract between Puerto Rico and a small Montana energy company has sparked controversy and raised questions about relief efforts after Hurricane Maria.
The $300 million contract between the stricken island’s power utility and two-year-old firm Whitefish Energy Holdings is looking more and more unusual each day.
On Friday, the Trump administration distanced itself from the contract, which the White House, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke all said Puerto Rican officials were responsible for having signed.
“The federal government has nothing to do with this contract or the process. This was something solely determined by the Puerto Rican government,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
“As we understand, there is an ongoing audit, and we’ll look forward to seeing the results of that later.”
Zinke, who comes from the same Montana town as Whitefish Energy, said he had “absolutely nothing” to do with the company receiving the contract. Zinke had come under scrutiny because of the coincidence of his hometown company getting the contract.
“Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless,” he said in a statement.
Zinke also had a separate conversation with Trump, telling the president in an Oval Office meeting on Friday that he had nothing to do with the contract. Zinke’s responsibilities as Interior secretary include overseeing the federal government’s relationship with territories like Puerto Rico.
Sanders said Trump asked Zinke if he had any involvement in the contract “just for clarification purposes.”
“He reiterated once again that we have no role — the federal government — and specifically he had no role in that contract,” Sanders told reporters.
FEMA said it was not a party to the deal, even though the contract said that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) guaranteed that FEMA “has reviewed and approved of” it — a characterization the agency dismissed.
“FEMA was not involved in the selection,” it said. “Any language in any contract between PREPA and Whitefish that states FEMA approved that contract is inaccurate.”
FEMA further stated that it “has significant concerns with how PREPA procured this contract and has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable.” It said it was working closely with the utility to figure out how the contract came about.
PREPA expects FEMA to reimburse it for the costs of the contract, but PREPA and Whitefish would have to follow relevant contracting rules to be eligible.
While the news of Whitefish’s involvement is not new, a Tuesday story in The Washington Post shot it into the spotlight. It eventually spurred two congressional investigations, a Department of Homeland Security inspector general audit, a review by Puerto Rico’s government and numerous calls for more investigations.
PREPA and Whitefish signed the deal with no competitive bidding process in late September, despite Whitefish having only two employees at the time and little history working on infrastructure repair.
Puerto Rico officials say Whitefish won the contract because it didn’t require a deposit the island couldn’t afford.
Republicans on the House Energy and Commerce and Natural Resources committees sent a string of questions to officials on Thursday, asking Whitefish for documents related to its Puerto Rico operations and PREPA for information on its contact with repair firms like Whitefish.
“The size and terms of the contract, as well as the circumstances surrounding the contract’s formation, raise questions regarding PREPA’s standard contract awarding procedures,” Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the panel’s chairman, wrote along with Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.).
Hilary Cairnie, a government contracts attorney at Pepper Hamilton, said the Whitefish contract set off some red flags, but some of the unusual aspects might be explainable.
“It was a bit unorthodox in terms of how it came about,” he said of the no-bid contract. “But the FEMA disaster rules and contracting requirements afford that FEMA will recognize exceptions to competition rules.”
The contract also has a provision that appears to limit the ability of government agencies to audit Whitefish.
“In no event shall PREPA, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the FEMA Administrator, the Comptroller General of the United States, or any of their authorized representatives have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements,” it states.
Cairnie said that’s highly unusual and likely not enforceable. Laws like the Inspector General Act give officials wide-ranging investigative authority, and the federal government wasn’t even a party to the deal.
“From a public sector perspective, that is supremely unorthodox,” he said. “While I can understand why a company like Whitefish would want to be able to be immune from audits, if the underlying contract was awarded consistent with FEMA rules and regulations, most assuredly, there would be multiple layers of audit requirements,” he said.
Despite repeated assurances that Zinke has no involvement, his opponents, like environmentalists and Democrats, have continued to push the issue as a major controversy for the Interior secretary.
Ramón Cruz, a national board member at the Sierra Club and former regulator in energy and environment roles in Puerto Rico, said the developments add weight to the group’s calls for Zinke to resign.
“It’s eyebrow-raising. It’s very surprising to see this, even when he said that these are only buddies, that everybody knows each other. But he failed to disclose that his son used to work for Whitefish,” Cruz said.
“There’s mounting evidence that is very worrisome, that he is not serving the best interest of the American people and the American taxpayers in particular.”
The criticisms come as Congress begins more aggressive oversight of the response to Maria.
An Energy and Commerce panel will hold a hearing on the administration’s approach to recovery efforts next week, giving lawmakers the chance to probe the Whitefish contract and more general issues, including the slow pace of repairs on the island.
The Whitefish deal has become a flashpoint for critics of the administration’s Maria response.
“I was just there and saw the suffering of the people in the villages and towns across the island of Puerto Rico,” Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.) said on Wednesday.
“Without electricity, we cannot get Puerto Ricans back to work rebuilding their island and beginning to end the suffering. Look, the last thing we and the people of Puerto Rico need right now is a fat cat lining his pockets with money because they are well-connected.”
Whitefish insists its efforts are above-board, and said this week it welcomes scrutiny of its business deal.
In a late Friday statement, it said it would cooperate with the various government investigations.
"We are very proud of the work we are doing to restore power to the people of Puerto Rico under very difficult circumstances, and we respectfully ask that others await the facts before jumping to misinformed conclusions," the company said.

"We have one simple goal — to restore power to Puerto Rico as quickly and efficiently as possible."

The company had other missteps this week, including a public feud with the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, who criticized the contract.

Whitefish was forced to apologize after appearing to threaten pulling workers out of her city on Wednesday.
 

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo returns to Puerto Rico with supplies for Hurricane Maria victims

By DANICA COTO

Thursday, October 26, 2017 07:46PM

NEW YORK --
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Thursday that his state will help restore power in Puerto Rico and also improve access to clean water as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.

During a one-day visit to the island, Cuomo pledged $1 million through the Empire State Clean Water Fund to buy water filtration systems and said he would deploy a tactical team in November that specializes in the supervision of transmission and distribution system recovery.

It is the second time that the New York Democrat has visited Puerto Rico since the storm, and he criticized the federal response.

"To be here five weeks later and people still don't have power, people still don't have water, the results speak for themselves," he said. "It's unacceptable. It's inadequate. It's a life-and-death situation."

The storm hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane Sept. 20 with winds up to 155 mph. It killed 51 people, flattened Puerto Rico's electrical system, decimated thousands of homes and left tens of thousands unemployed, many of whom have left for the U.S. mainland in search of jobs and to enroll their children in school. About 75 percent of the island remains without power. Roughly 20 percent is without water, and officials warn that those who do have water service still need to boil it before drinking it.

"There's been a different standard that has subliminally been imposed," Cuomo said. "It would not be acceptable if any of the 50 states went through this ... It would be immediate outrage."

Taking aim at comments by President Donald Trump, Cuomo said rebuilding Puerto Rico will take years and billions of dollars of federal funding. Two weeks ago, Trump tweeted: "We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!"

The governor traveled to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico last month to survey hurricane damage.

He noted the approaching fifth anniversary of Superstorm Sandy, which lashed New York City and Long Island.

"We rebuilt a New York that is better and stronger than it was before Hurricane Sandy," he said. "That should be the attitude in Puerto Rico."

New York already has sent millions of bottles of water, baby wipes, diapers and other goods to Puerto Rico, and it has deployed hundreds of National Guard military police, engineers and soldiers and also volunteer medical staff.

Cuomo said he also could send hundreds of power crews to Puerto Rico within days if the island's government activated a mutual aid agreement, which it has not.

Instead, Gov. Ricardo Rosello's administration awarded a $300 million contract to a small Montana company called Whitefish that has sparked outrage and led members of Congress from both parties to demand an investigation. The company is located in the hometown of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

On Thursday, Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, sent the director of Puerto Rico's Electric Power Authority a letter demanding documents, including those related to the contract with Whitefish and others that show what authority the agency has to deviate from normal contracting processes. The letter also was signed by Rep. Bruce Westerman, an Arkansas Republican who is chairman of the House subcommittee on oversight and investigations.

Rossello said he has asked for an audit on the contract awarded by power company director Ricardo Ramos.

"I can't make an assessment right now on how effective they're being," he said of Whitefish workers, adding that he sees them working hard across the island.

Rossello also said he will not hesitate to act if any wrongdoing is found: "There will be hell to pay."
 

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Puerto Ricans Displaced by Hurricane Maria Could be Relocated to U.S. Mainland

By Joe Light
October 29, 2017, 12:01 AM EDT October 29, 2017, 10:09 AM EDT

  • Agency has started developing medium-term plan for displaced
  • Five weeks after Maria, many communities without power, water
The Trump administration is exploring ways to relocate tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans to the U.S. mainland for an extended period as parts of the territory remain devastated more than a month after Hurricane Maria.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development late last week started to develop a plan to provide housing to some of Puerto Rico’s displaced population, according to people familiar with the matter. And given the shortage of available options on the island, the possibility of evacuating large numbers to the mainland has emerged as an option.
Two of the people who spoke to HUD officials said using large commercial cruise liners had been suggested to move residents en masse.
The most recent push for a solution began after a meeting on Friday that included officials from HUD, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the White House and others, according to the people. But it’s unclear if the White House or any agencies outside of HUD are coordinating with the housing agency, or if the ideas are only being developed within the department for now.
Agency officials in the past two days have contacted executives in the housing industry, investment managers with ties to Puerto Rico, and others in an attempt to brainstorm potential solutions, said the people, who asked not to be named because they weren’t authorized to speak to the media.

Logistical Challenge


Thousands of Puerto Rico residents have already fled to Florida and elsewhere since Maria struck as a Category Four storm on Sept. 20. Much of the territory, including the outer islands of Vieques and Culebra, remains without electricity. Potable drinking water is scarce in some areas, and thousands of miles of roads are still closed.
The evacuation idea is in the earliest stages, and given immense logistical challenges it may never come to pass. An orchestrated mass movement and temporary resettlement would require coordination between various parts of the government and a willingness by local communities to house any evacuees, at a substantial cost.
“There is nothing newsy about HUD planning medium and long-term recovery -- that’s what we always do,” HUD spokesman Raffi Williams in an email. He didn’t comment on the idea of moving Puerto Rico residents to the mainland.
The White House referred questions to HUD and FEMA.
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello’s request to FEMA for Transitional Sheltering Assistance (TSA), in a letter dated Oct. 25, initiated a larger conversation within the Trump administration about the territory’s future, including conversations involving HUD, said Susan Phalen, FEMA’s director of external affairs.
In a joint statement on Saturday, FEMA and the government of Puerto Rico said implementation of the TSA program is under consideration but that no decision has been made.

Heading to Florida


TSA funds typically go toward hotel rooms outside areas damaged by natural disasters, but that process is more complicated because Puerto Rico is an island that, because of widespread damage from Maria, has very few habitable hotels.
“We’re working closely with the governor to look at a wide range of options because of the logistical challenges of being on an island,” Phalen said.
Many residents with the wherewithal to leave have already departed Puerto Rico, which had a population of about 3.4 million in 2016. Florida Governor Rick Scott said in a statement on Oct. 25 that since Oct. 3, more than 73,000 Puerto Ricans had arrived in the state through airports in Miami and Orlando and through the Port Everglades seaport. The state is operating disaster relief centers for displaced families at those locations.
The island’s problems will be longer term. It could take months to restore power to much of the territory after almost the entire electrical grid was wiped out.
After Hurricane Katrina leveled much of New Orleans and the U.S. Gulf Coast in 2005, more than 145,000 housing units -- trailers and mobile homes -- were provided to displaced residents. Planned as a temporary measure, the Katrina housing mission lasted almost seven years.
— With assistance by Jennifer Epstein, and Christopher Flavelle
 

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Gov. John Bel Edwards to travel to Puerto Rico for hurricane recovery efforts; aides arrived Sunday


SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Gov. John Bel Edwards and top disaster recovery leaders from his administration are traveling to Puerto Rico this week to assist the island with its recovery from Hurricane Maria.
Edwards and first lady Donna Edwards are expected to arrive in San Juan on Monday morning and to return Tuesday evening.
Maj. Gen. Glenn Curtis, adjutant general of the Louisiana National Guard, and James Waskom, director of the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, made the trip on Sunday.
“Louisiana has far too much experience with disaster management, and Mother Nature has caused unimaginable harm in Puerto Rico,” Edwards said in a statement. “I am happy that Louisiana has been able to provide assistance as survivors recover, much like the assistance we’ve relied on in the aftermath of disasters I know they have a long road ahead of them, but I’ve assured Gov. (Ricardo) Rosselló that we will be partners with them as they move into the recovery phase."

'Fragile,' elderly couple escapes hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico with help of family, Louisiana mission

It's been a month since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, but the island has struggled with recovery obstacles. Much of the island remains without power.
During his trip, Edwards is scheduled to meet with Puerto Rican leaders, including Rosselló, to offer advice on the recovery, based on Louisiana's experience with previous storms. Though Louisiana was faced with the close threat of multiple hurricanes that reached the Gulf of Mexico this hurricane season, the state has been largely spared from devastating storms that struck Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Louisiana officials have since been advising other states on recovery efforts, with GOHSEP officials traveling to hurricane-hit areas. The Shelter at Home program, which Louisiana implemented after last year's catastrophic floods to make bare-bones repairs to make homes habitable again, is being used as a model for quick, short-term housing in hurricane-hit states.

While in Puerto Rico, Edwards also is expected to meet with Louisiana National Guard troops stationed there and to have dinner with air traffic control airmen.

Shortly after arriving Sunday night, Curtis visited with National Guardsmen at an outpost in San Juan.
"I'm really, really thankful to all of you," Curtis told the troops in an uplifting pep talk.
Capt. Matthew Moore, who arrived in Puerto Rico about a month ago, said the experience has been humbling. He said his company has been providing security services, but has diverse members including medics, cooks and mechanics who have been able to lend their expertise to the effort.
"It's one of the most humbling experiences of my life," he said. "The people of Puerto Rico are very thankful and appreciative of what we're doing."
More than 300 members of the Louisiana National Guard have been sent to Puerto Rico after the storm made landfall on Sept. 20, and about half of them remain there.
In addition to the on-the-ground support, Edwards' administration helped coordinate a statewide donation drive, with drop-off locations in each parish, that collected about 100 pallets of donated items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the hurricane, with the Louisiana National Guard arranging transportation. The state has also sent 131 pieces of heavy equipment, including 18-wheelers, dump trucks, water tankers, skid steers, tractors and Humvees.
 

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FBI investiga contrato de Whitefish Energy

La información fue confirmada por tres fuentes del periódico The Wall Street Journal

Por Metro Puerto Rico
lunes 30 de octubre del 2017, a las 13:09

El Buró Federal de Investigaciones (FBI) indaga sobre la firma del contrato entre la Autoridad de Energía Eléctrica (AEE) y la empresa Whitefish Energy, empresa encargada de revitalizar el sistema eléctrico luego del paso del huracán María, reportó hoy el periódico The Wall Street Journal.
De acuerdo a la publicación, tres de sus fuentes confirmaron que agentes de la oficina de San Juan del FBI estudian las circunstancias en las que el acuerdo fue pautado.
Ayer, el gobernador Ricardo Rosselló y el director de la AEE, Ricardo Ramos, solicitaron la cancelación del documento por presuntamente ser una “ distracción” para los trabajos de reestructuración de la red de electricidad de la isla.
Además del FBI, la Agencia Federal de Manejo de Emergencias (FEMA, en inglés), el Congreso de los Estados Unidos, la Oficina del Inspector General y la contralora Yasmín Valdivieso investigan la contratación de la compañía, que al momento de establecer el acuerdo solo tenía dos años de experiencia en el mercado y dos empleados a tiempo completo.
Según el The Wall Street Journal, la empresa Whitefish Energy no se ha expresado sobre la investigación del FBI. Una portavoz del gobierno de Rosselló, de acuerdo a la misma fuente, dio la bienvenida a “cualquier investigación por las autoridades federales”.
Ayer en conferencia de prensa, Ramos defendió el contrato y estableció que no hubo “irregularidades” en su otorgación. Añadió que las alegaciones hechas en los medios son “falsas” y les culpó de crear “distracción” en los oficiales de la empresa con sede en Montana.
De acuerdo a varios medios internacionales, el principal ejecutivo de Whitefish Energy, Andy Techmanski es amigo del secretario del interior de la administración de Donald Trump, Ryan Zinke.
 

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Puerto Rico's Crisis Affects Us All
Grace-Marie Turner , Contributor


Puerto Rico’s economy was in distress before the island was slammed by hurricanes Irma and Marie, and it is struggling mightily now to recover. But new tax policies also are needed for this U.S. territory to have a fighting chance at long-term economic recovery.
Damage to the island from the hurricanes was overwhelming, destroying homes and crippling businesses already suffering in the island’s fragile economy.
“By every measure, this was an epic event of historic destruction that will require our sustained commitment to our fellow citizens on the island,” Food and Drug Commissioner Scott Gottlieb told Congress in testimony last week. “Puerto Rico was a singular tragedy that challenges the FDA in unique ways.” And it affects all of us.
Puerto Rico is a manufacturing hub with half of its economy devoted to manufacturing. One third of the island’s GDP comes from making medical products, primarily pharmaceuticals. About 8% of all medicines that Americans consume are produced in Puerto Rico. In addition, 50 medical device plants there make everything from pacemakers to blood collection devices, and the island has a growing biotech sector.

Altogether, pharmaceutical plants employ 90,000 people, with more than 160,000 working in indirect supplier and support jobs. They are good, high-paying jobs that are crucial to supporting Puerto Rico’s middle class. Unless these manufacturing facilities recover and stay in Puerto Rico, the beating heart of the economy would be irreparably damaged.
As part of its tax reform measure, Congress could help to rebuild the island’s economy with new policies that would underpin its vital manufacturing sector.
While most of the island is still without power, most of the pharmaceutical plants are operating but at a substantially limited capacity. Most are operating on diesel-fueled generators that were never created to keep a large manufacturing plant operating indefinitely.
 

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Puerto Rico models Hurricane Maria recovery program after Louisiana strategy: report

Updated on October 30, 2017 at 10:02 PM Posted on October 30, 2017 at 9:56 PM

By Julia O'Donoghue
[email protected],
NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune

A new recovery program in Puerto Rico aimed at getting people back in their homes as quickly as possible after Hurricane Maria will be modeled after one used by Louisiana following the historic flooding in 2016, according to WBRZ, a Baton Rouge television station.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello formerly launched Puerto Rico's version of Louisiana's Shelter at Home program Monday (Oct. 30) while Gov. John Bel Edwards and First Lady Donna Edwards were visiting the island.
Through Shelter at Home, Louisiana made barebones repairs to people's homes following the 2016 floods around Baton Rouge that were supposed to allow people to "shelter in place" while they conducted more extensive repairs on their residences.
Rossello expects Puerto Rico's version of the Shelter at Home program to work similarly, though it will have to be much larger since Hurricane Maria affected many more households than did Louisiana's 2016 flooding, according to WBRZ.

First Lady Donna Edwards will accompany the governor on the trip.

Shelter at Home wasn't considered a success by all involved. The program was supposed to get a home's basic needs -- electricity and plumbing, for example -- working well enough so a family or person could live in their house while more extensive repairs were done.
But families who received the benefits often didn't think the repairs were extensive enough to make their homes inhabitable. A household with one working bathroom for example, didn't qualify for a second bathroom to be repaired. People were entitled to a temporary mini-refrigerator, but not a replacement of a larger one.
The Edwards administration has defended the program, saying people misunderstood the extent to which repairs would be made. The program was completely funded with federal emergency relief funding, which meant there were tight restrictions on what types of fixes could be covered by it. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) doesn't allow the type of funding that paid for Shelter at Home to be used for permanent home rebuilding, which meant the program couldn't cover more substantial repairs, according to the governor's team.

On his trip, Edwards is also visiting with members of the Louisiana National Guard, who have been assisting with hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico for the past month. Louisiana still has about 150 guardsmen and others from the Governor's Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness (GOHSEP) working in Puerto Rico. At its high point, the state sent 300 guardsmen to the island to help.
Maj. General Glenn Curtis, who leads the Louisiana National Guard, and Col. James Waskom, director of GOHSEP, are also in Puerto Rico with the governor. Edwards returns to Louisiana on Tuesday.
 

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Bridgeport opens Puerto Rico Relief Center

By Linda Conner Lambeck
Updated 5:17 pm, Wednesday, November 1, 2017

BRIDGEPORT — Juan Irizarry planned to move to the U.S. mainland after collecting a degree in chemical engineering. Eventually.
Hurricane Maria sped up the process.
Once he knew his parents in the coastal town of Arecibo could get by without him, Irizarry, 22, made his move. He came to Bridgeport to live with an uncle two weeks ago, and almost immediately became connected with the city’s new Puerto Rico Relief Center — as a volunteer.

“As much as I am able, I want to help,” said Irizarry, whose command of English has been put to good use.
He was among those who on Wednesday christened the new center, on the ground floor of 2 Lafayette Square, where it shares office space with the American Job Center.

Designed to be a one-stop resource for families transitioning from Puerto Rico to Bridgeport, the center will offer job assistance as well as referrals for housing, health care, transportation, food and clothing.
Scott Wilderman, chief executive officer of Career Resources, said his agency and others felt compelled to do something from the time Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.
Dozens of Bridgeport-area nonprofit agencies, community leaders, officials and educators have banded together to help welcome the hurricane refugees, whether their stay is short-term or permanent.

“Some say they are here just until they recover.” Wilderman said. “Some lost everything and their next home is here.”
As of Tuesday, about 70 percent of the island of 3.4 million people were still reported to be without power.
“We will work with families, many with real problems,” said Rosa Correa, coordinator of the relief center, promising it to be a long-term commitment.
Bridgeport has one of the largest Puerto Rican populations in the state. And the center has started working with 30 families who because of the hurricane have come to live with local relatives.
“This is your community,” Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony. “Make this a welcoming place to live.”
Erica Rosario, 29, who helped cut the ribbon, arrived from Puerto Rico two weeks ago with her mom. Since then she has been hospitalized twice with stomach problems.
“Our house was very broke,” Rosario said. Still, the decision to leave was hard.
Idalis Colon came last week with two children — a toddler and an older child who has enrolled at Cesar Batalla school — and is living with her father. The home she left in Puerto Rico still has no power or water.
Colon’s eighth-grader is one of 53 children who have enrolled in the school district from Puerto Rico over the past month.
“It’s good,” she said of the welcome she has received.
Recent fundraisers in the city and surrounding area have raised more than $70,000, said Correa. There also have been collections of supplies. At noon on Wednesday, a truck filled with donations collected at Housatonic Community College was to arrive at the center.
Scott Appleby, director of emergency management for the city, said the state has put in a request for a Federal Emergency Management Agency specialist to work on behalf of Bridgeport and Hartford to provide disaster relief that arriving victims need.
“We want to make sure no one falls through cracks,” Appleby said.
Irizarry said the power came back four days ago at his parent’s home in Arecibo, a coastal community a half hour from San Juan.
Still, he intends to stay in Bridgeport.
“I want to be in a position to help my family back in Puerto Rico,” Irizarry said, adding he and others like him have skills and a work ethic that can be put to good use in cities like Bridgeport.
“But drive and willingness alone is not enough,” he said. “That is why this center, the Puerto Rico Relief Center, is so important.”
 
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