Texas Housers calls on FEMA and HUD to act quickly and equitably with Hurricane Fiona recovery in Puerto Rico, as future storms loom

On September 18, on the 33rd anniversary of Category 3 Hurricane Hugo and two days before the 5th Anniversary of Category 4 Hurricane Maria’s landfall, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Fiona that not only caused catastrophic damage to the homes and structures that remained post-Maria but also damaged new construction and infrastructure that had been invested in within the last five years. But this was a different type of storm. Hurricane Fiona came with amounts of rain not previously seen in Hurricane Maria which, coupled with the mountainous topography of the island, created landslides and deluged rivers and creeks. Widespread flooding has been reported and the entire island lost power. Ten days later, the majority of residents continue without basic utilities like water and electricity.

The lives of Puerto Ricans must be valued. Their lives are just as meaningful, full of joy and complexity as any of us in the United States. We call on the federal government to be just, efficient, and effective in rolling out disaster recovery declarations and aid for the United States territory. 

As an organization that has fought for Disaster Justice since Hurricane Dolly and Ike in 2008, we demand the following:

  • HUD must address significant challenges in the recovery process encountered after Hurricane Maria to prevent further displacement of disaster survivors, an even greater shortage of housing, and a rise in homelessness across Puerto Rico. This must include an investigation by the HUD Office of the Inspector General on the failures to progress on Hurricane Maria’s long-term recovery goals. 
  • FEMA must act on the commitments established in its 2022-2026 Strategic Plan and commit to a “People First Approach” to disaster recovery and continue to remove barriers to their program implementation to address the systemic inequities of our disaster recovery systems.
  • FEMA must work with local authorities and nonprofits to launch a large-scale and widespread education program about FEMA assistance ensuring that all possible applicants have adequate access to this information. This information should be given in a timely manner and made accessible to people with disabilities as well as in other languages, mainly Spanish. 
  • The federal government should also implement a community oversight and monitoring structure for the response and recovery for Hurricane Fiona to minimize challenges faced in previous recovery efforts.

Fiona grew into a Category 4 storm in the Atlantic Ocean and is on track to cause major damages in Canada before dissipating. Today, as Florida evacuates and braces for the arrival of Hurricane Ian as a Category 4 Hurricane, Governor Ron DeSantis submitted a disaster declaration for all 67 counties to move into the response and recovery phases of disaster cycles. Hurricane Ian is being compared to Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Charley 2004, each of which whose winds were severe, but were significantly smaller than the current storm. The reality that Puerto Ricans are living currently may be the future for Floridians who are already fleeing their homes for safety. 

We only hope that our solidarity can strengthen their communities, increase the demand for proper resources to recover, and our shared experience can continue to shape the way we recover in the future from disasters as they grow exponentially and affect our most vulnerable and marginalized communities at home.  

Join Ayuda Legal Puerto Rico for a Facebook LIVE event September 29 at 3pm CST titled “5 Years After Hurricane Maria and Days since Fiona – Just Recovery: For Whom and What for?” English and Spanish interpretation available.

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