CNN’s John D. Sutter, alongside Cristian Arroyo and McKenna Ewen, have embarked on a road-trip across Puerto Rico, tracking the path taken by Hurricane Maria over the island. Their road-trip, aptly named #LaRutadeMaria, started four days ago. Their reporting captures the day-to-day struggles so many Puerto Ricans still face to this day. Many of their tweets include photographs of the interviewees’ homes or landscape images of different neighborhoods hard hit by the hurricane. And if there is one common theme among all the images it is that many of the houses they have visited are very badly damaged and most have lost parts of their roofs.
In one of the tweets, Sutter shares a photograph of “workers installing a blue roof.” He notes: “Last I heard less than 30% of applicants had gotten help from @USACEHQ” – the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) Twitter handle.The USACE’s has been following Sutter’s work, responding directly to some of his tweets. And it seems that at least one person in Comerio has benefited by the coverage.
This is a great opportunity for us to consider the USACE’s work in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria. Since mid-October the Corps has been actively reporting on its activities in Puerto Rico, posting photos, stories and infographics about their work via their social media accounts.
To date, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has awarded USACE, 27 assignments and a budget of $2.4 billion. Of these 27 assignments the most important are:
- The rebuilding of Puerto Rico’s electrical system;
- The installment of emergency temporary generators;
- The removal of 3.7 million cubic yards of debris in 49 out of the island’s 78 municipalities; and
- The installment of temporary emergency roofing (i.e. blue roofs).
The USACE’s “Operation Blue Roof” has been a controversial subject. FEMA had to cancel a contract it had awarded to a Missouri-based company for failing to deliver the tarps on schedule. New contracts have been recently awarded, but it will take time to manufacture, transport and distribute these temporary roof coverings to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Thus, the demand for these temporary roofs have been higher than the supply. How much higher? The following chart uses data from USACE’s “Daily Progress Graphic” to answer this question.
As of December 17, 2017 – 88 days after Hurricane Maria made downfall – the USACE has only installed 31% of the requested 72,909 blue tarps. The USACE currently expects to deliver up to 75,000 for these plastic roofs, though the numbers will increase given that the government of Puerto Rico estimates that Hurricane Maria destroyed or seriously damaged more than 472,000 houses.
What should we make of these figures? Regardless of what the Puerto Rican government says, the relief effort is still in the “emergency phase”. Returning the island to a pre-Irma state will take months, if not years. And the longer it takes for Puerto Rico to get back on its feet, the more frustration the island’s residents will feel towards their elected leaders, while encouraging many to question the current state of U.S.-Puerto Rico relations.
This short analysis was prompted by Sutter’s road-trip and his Twitter-based vignettes of Puerto Ricans trying to cope with their current socio-economic challenges. His reporting has given voice to a number of working class Puerto Ricans that have been the most affected by this crisis. It is worth following his Twitter account or searching for the tweets that include the hashtag – #LaRutadeMaria – to gain a more comprehensive account of the island’s humanitarian crisis.
In future posts, I will delve into other aspects of the USACE’s work, while also considering Governor Ricardo Rosselló ‘s reactions to the Republican tax plan, which will hurt the island’s economy.