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What is FEMA doing for Puerto Rico? An investigation

Next month marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria striking Puerto Rico; a devastating memory that still haunts residents of this island today.

Since then, many more problems have been uncovered following the storm as the information continues to shift around with each investigation and new research.

But the most alarming issue has been the death toll the disaster left behind.

All the numbers we’ve heard up to now have varied quite drastically, with the first death toll reported by the Government of Puerto Rico at just 64 people. At another point, a Harvard study said that there could be up 4,600 dead.

But now, after a study at George Washington University, the latest number is at an estimated 2,975 people, making it the second deadliest storm in US history surpassing Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Puerto Rico has been since undergoing a socioeconomic crisis as a result of the aftermath of the storm.

With the new hurricane season approaching it’s most active period, fear begins to creep over the minds of millions of citizens who live in the Caribbean territory of the United States; especially those who are still waiting for federal assistance to reconstruct their homes.

Kulture Hub spoke to FEMA spokesperson Dasha Castillo who told us over 1 million applications related to damages by Hurricane Maria have been submitted to their relief agency. But still, only about half of the total applications have been approved equaling over a billion dollars for the individual and household assistance.

Although FEMA allegedly has the situation under control and has been working nonstop to keep up with the number of applications they receive on a daily basis they have been roughly criticized for the slowness with which the entire situation has been managed.

The urgency to provide assistance to these citizens is a life-threatening matter. Most of the awaiting applicants lost their homes during the hurricane and to this day are still waiting for economic assistance to reconstruct their homes and prepare for the new hurricane season.

This is mostly due to an issue related to the difficulty or failure to provide proof of ownership of the property — a very common factor on the island.

Most Puerto Ricans have inherited their properties and homes after a family member died or some simply live in small areas that have been owned by generations before them without any legal evidence of ownership.

However, this problem could be solved with a legal document that proves in any way the person who submits the claim is the owner of the property.

Now, this may be a solution, but most citizens do not have access to legal counseling or simply cannot afford it, making this one of the main issues revolving around FEMA applications. To solve this situation, volunteers are offering free legal services to citizens.

To this day there is still a lot to be done. FEMA estimates about 50 billion dollars will be spent throughout the entire recovery process over the next 10 years. Also, FEMA has added preparation for future disasters as part of the protocol to ensure better outcomes if a situation such as Hurricane Maria were to occur again.

Preparedness has become a key factor to avoid casualties in the future.

As a part of this strategy FEMA has designated a distribution center with over 300,000 square feet, this space will provide over 13 million liters of water, 3.8 million meals, 630 generators, 23,600 blankets, 270,000 tarps, 74,500 rolls of plastic sheeting and over 400 shelters are available as needed.

Healthcare has also been one of the main focus areas for FEMA during the recovery of the island; their aim is to “transform and strengthen Puerto Rico’s health and social services to a higher-quality level than that preceding Hurricane Maria,” according to Castillo.

Puerto Rico still has a lot of work to do for its recovery and preservation for future incidents. If you wish to volunteer in the process you can access more information at FEMA’s official site here.