March 21 (UPI) — Hundreds of people gathered outside of the Federal Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Washington D.C. on Tuesday to protest the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
About 250 people carrying blue tarps like those provided by FEMA joined the demonstration on the six-month anniversary of when the powerful category 4 storm struck the island, leaving many people in need of shelter and electricity to this day.
“People are living through this in FEMA hotels, unclear whether they are being kicked out. They are desperate,” Ana Maria Archila, executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, said.
FEMA “officially shut off” its emergency humanitarian aid for the island in January after providing more than 30 million gallons of potable water and nearly 60 million meals following the storm.
The agency said it provided up to $500 million in public assistance at the time as well as $3.2 million to help with unemployment stemming from the storm.
As the island’s infrastructure continues to recover, 93 percent of customers who are able to receive electricity have power, according to the Army Corps of Engineers. More than 100,000 customers remain without power six months after the storm.
“There are some towns in the middle of Puerto Rico and in the southeast part of Puerto Rico that are hovering over around 20 to 30 percent [with electricity],” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said.
Most of the power in Puerto Rico is being energized by three 25 megawatt generators put in place by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Microgrids have also been set up to distribute power to other parts of the island, said Justo Hernandez, deputy federal coordinating officer for FEMA.
Commander of the Task Force Power Restoration Col. Jason Kirk called the blackout the longest in American history and “the biggest challenge ever as far as devastation to an electrical grid system in the United States.”
He added it could take until June to restore power in some cases.
“The power restoration that we’re doing right now, for the most part, is replacement … if we were in the mission to bury them [electrical poles], we would have hundreds of thousands of people without power because it takes so long,” Kirk said.
Since the storm, Rossello announced plans to privatize the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority in a move he said would provide a “leap into the modernization of Puerto Rico” as he hopes to modernize the island’s electrical grid, which is 28 years older than the industry average in the United States.
Rossello said the electrical grid being put in place now is weaker than the previous one and it will take close to five years to a rebuild a stronger electrical grid.