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Experts: Puerto Rico in Danger Without Disaster Plan

In this Sept. 26, 2017 file photo, Nestor Serrano walks on the upstairs floor of his home, where the walls were blown off, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.
In this Sept. 26, 2017 file photo, Nestor Serrano walks on the upstairs floor of his home, where the walls were blown off, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico.
Experts: Puerto Rico in Danger Without Disaster Plan
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More than a year after Hurricane Maria, the government of Puerto Rico remains unprepared for future natural disasters. Officials there recently admitted that they have not made a new disaster plan. And it is not clear when they will, the Associated Press reports.

For months, the government of the U.S. territory said it had completed a disaster plan. It said the plan was being kept secret to protect information about weak infrastructure as well as the private contact details of officials.

But Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism recently took legal action to get the government to release the plan. That is what led officials to admit that its plan does not deal with major disaster events like hurricanes and earthquakes.

Many Puerto Ricans are angry. They blame the government for the nearly 3,000 deaths linked to Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that hit the island in September 2017.

Nazario Lugo is a former director of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency and president of the island’s Association of Emergency Managers. He told the AP, “The government has clearly failed the people and hid the fact that the plan was under revision.”

Carlos Acevedo is director of Puerto Rico’s Bureau for Emergency and Disaster Management. He did not answer the AP’s requests for comment about why the plan has not been completed.

Government lawyer Tania Fernandez said last month that she did not know when the plan would be finished and made public. She said officials have not yet hired experts to create such plans.

A partial plan that the government released last month notes the dangers of poor preparation. The document said the effects of Hurricane Maria “made it clear” that the government did not have a plan or enough resources to deal with such a large storm.

However, Lugo and another former emergency management agency director, Epifanio Jimenez, said Puerto Rico does have plan for a Category 4 hurricane. They said it was created in 1989, after the Category 3 Hurricane Hugo hit the island. But, they say, Governor Ricardo Rossello’s administration failed to follow it when Maria hit.

Lugo and Jimenez said a lack of fuel and truck drivers, poor communication between local governments and a slow delivery of supplies made carrying out the emergency plan after Maria more difficult. They said officials also did not know the immediate needs of each area on the island.

Jesus Cuartas is an operational planning chief for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA. He said that, even though Puerto Rico has not finished an official plan, local and federal officials have learned lessons from Maria. He believes Puerto Rico is more prepared now than when the storm hit.

Cuartas urged patience, adding that a rushed plan would not be an effective one.

I’m Alice Bryant.

Danica Coto wrote this story for the Associated Press. Alice Bryant adapted it for Learning English. Ashley Thompson was the editor.


Words in This Story

infrastructuren. the basic equipment and structures (such as roads and bridges) that are needed for a country or region to function properly

journalismn. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television or radio

revisionn. a change or a set of changes that corrects or improves something

partial adj. not complete or total

rushedadj. done too quickly and often with little thought, attention, or care