Puerto Rico governor on the "highly frustrating" hurricane recovery process

Puerto Rico governor on hurricane recovery

In our series American Voices, we explore how high-level decisions and debates play out on the local level. 

About 40,000 homes and businesses in Puerto Rico are still without power, seven months after Hurricane Maria's devastation. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, who said "it just feels like yesterday," said the U.S. territory is finally "starting to reach normalcy."

But just last week, the whole island lost power in a blackout that impacted more than 1.4 million customers. Officials said an excavator accidentally downed a transmission line. The contractor was fired.

Rosselló, who has been a strong advocate for federal aid to rebuild the island's infrastructure and provide interim housing, said he understands people's outrage. He described the recovery process so far as "highly frustrating."

"The energy rebuild has been the most frustrating part. I've been very critical, for example, the Corps of Engineers, because they haven't had the sense of urgency. Unfortunately we really depend a lot on those resources to come to the island to rebuild," Rosselló said.

Six months after Hurricane Maria, parts of Puerto Rico still without power

The governor said he has not spoken to President Trump "in a while, but he has responded to our petitions." 

"I'll tell you what I told him when I was in the Oval Office: This is a long-term process and we're all going to be evaluated on the results of the recovery," Rosselló said.

While he said they expect everyone to get their power back "within the next month," Rosselló pointed to another looming threat.

"Hurricane season is coming back in a month and we need to see how we can harden. That's why just putting it back together doesn't work. We need to be innovative, look towards the future. Puerto Rico can be a model for energy," Rosselló said.

He said he's preparing for "something worse" than Hurricane Maria.

"I have to prepare, and that's why it is disconcerting. Because we're lifting up the energy grid but it is an energy grid that on average is 40 years older than energy grids over here," he said. "So our – my job as governor is now looking forward within the next two or three years to make sure that we have a novel energy grid, micro-grids across the island, 40 percent renewables that's resilient so that we can be a model for all the world."

He said they've learned lessons from Maria and will be "better off for it next time." 

This week, Rosselló launched an effort to mobilize Puerto Ricans politically before this year's midterm elections.

"We're recognizing that, for the first time, Puerto Ricans are 5.6 million strong in the United States. But we've never been really organized all across the nation," Rosselló explained. "What we want to make sure is that that group of Puerto Ricans and friends of Puerto Rico can get organized, can have the power to implement change in policy and that could be a voice to the people of Puerto Rico because we're a colonial territory and because of that, we don't have the power to vote."

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