Two Years After Hurricane Maria: An Ongoing Recovery

with Laura Esquivel of the Hispanic Federation

In 2017, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, causing widespread destruction across the U.S. territory. Two years later, the recovery effort continues.

Laura Esquivel of the Hispanic Federation joins host Nathalia Ortiz to discuss efforts to serve the immediate and long-term needs of families and communities in Puerto Rico.

Posted on:

Aug 29, 2019

Hosted by: Nathalia Ortiz
Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Ortiz: In September 2017, Hurricane Maria brought unprecedented death and devastation to Puerto Rico, the effects of which will be felt for years to come. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Nathalia Ortiz. Two years later, rebuilding efforts continue. In addition to government help, grassroots organizations, individuals, business, and foundations have partnered to address the multiple long-term needs of the island's residents. Laura Esquivel, director of national advocacy of the Hispanic Federation, joins me to discuss the status of rebuilding efforts two years out. Welcome.

Esquivel: Thank you. It's wonderful to be here.

Ortiz: You know, I think one of the things that many people are asking themselves is, still? There are still problems because of the hurricane? I think a lot of us probably lost touch with what was going on there after they got their power back. What kind of problems are they dealing with right now that were related to that hurricane?
Esquivel: Well, let me just provide a little bit of context. With 3 1/2 million people on the island, Puerto Rico ranks 29th in population out of all of the states and territories. It is larger than 20 other states and the District of Columbia. So just to give you kind of a sense of the scope when we talk about devastation, we're talking about millions and millions of people. What they're still dealing with today, [00:01:30.10] nearly two years after the hurricane, there are 300,000 school children who go to school every day in damaged buildings. Some of them still have leaky roofs. They have patched-up walls and doors. They have not received the money, and the island has not had the ability to make those repairs. And then when they go home, they go home to still nearly 20,000 homes that still have blue tarps on them, tarps that have way outlived their projected lifetime of use. It's still very, very challenging.

Ortiz: What has been accomplished, and how do you see what needs to be done? How do you see that... be able to get done? Do you know what I mean? Like, what resources do you need, and what's standing in the way?

Esquivel: Well, Hispanic Federation, we're very happy and very proud to be one of the largest institutional donors on the island. We are seeding over 110 projects and initiatives on the island across the range of needs. So really, everything needs to be done. We've got the environment, education, housing, the energy rebuilding, obviously. The problem is that the infrastructure was shaky to begin with, and so there does not need to be some patch-and-repair jobs. The island needs to be rebuilt] because of the infrastructure that was poor to begin with, but also because of the extreme devastation. People think billions of federal dollars have already flowed to the island, but it really hasn't. Studies have shown that most of that money is going to contractors from the mainland and that they expect only about 17% of the money, the federal money that is gone, to stay on the island. So we need to change a lot structurally about how -- about how relief is going to happen and rebuilding is gonna happen, but we also need to make sure that their rebuilding and relief efforts are led by the people who are most impacted. They are the experts -- the people who remain on the island, the people who have been working there for years and who are gonna continue to raise their families there. Brown: Laura, what is your organization -- what is the Hispanic Federation doing to help this cause?

Esquivel: Well, immediately after Maria hit, within two days, we had helped charter the first relief flight to the island with first responders. We got there before FEMA did.

Ortiz: Wow.

Esquivel: We have coordinated a couple of dozen relief flights, provided 7 1/2 million pounds of food and supplies and water, all of that in the immediate aftermath. What we are now doing is working on supporting organizations for the long-term rebuilding. This is a long-term effort. It's gonna take years to rebuild.

Ortiz: And where can people go if they want to help?

Esquivel: You can read about the organizations that we're helping, what is needed on the island, and also some of the incredible organizations and people who are trying -- you know, it's an opportunity also to try new things, to get things right to help the island become more sustainable. Before the hurricane, 80% of the food was imported to Puerto Rico, on a lush island, and so investing in things now like agriculture] that is sustainable to help provide food security, those are things that should have been done long ago. Now we have the opportunity to do that.

Ortiz: Laura Esquivel of the Hispanic Federation, thank you so much for coming to visit us today at "Comcast Newsmakers," and thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I'm Nathalia Ortiz.

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