New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said yesterday he was not surprised by the lack of commitment from President Donald Trump's administration to assist the island, particularly the southern area, after recent earthquakes and constant seismic activity.
For Cuomo, a week after the biggest earthquake that hit the island on January 7, the federal government should have signed a major disaster declaration.
"I don't think the federal government was responsive during Hurricane María, so I'm not surprised by their lack of response. I'm not going to wait for them to respond now. We want to help as New Yorkers," he said.
Cuomo yesterday made that state's resources available to assist the island recover from Tuesday's earthquake and its constant aftershocks.
New York governor said he will also reactivate the network of organizations created to offer aid to Puerto Rico after Hurricane María.
"My heart breaks seeing Puerto Rico go through this again. We were here with Hurricane María and there was so much pain, and the reconstruction was not completed, and now we have this situation," the governor said.
Cuomo visited yesterday three of the hard-hit municipalities. He began with a visit to the Costa Sur power plant in Guayanilla, then he went to the shelter located outside the Mariano "Tito" Rodríguez Coliseum in Guánica. Later, he met with the mayor of Ponce, María "Mayita" Meléndez, and visited refugees at the Bernardino Cordero school in Ciudad Señorial.
"We want to make sure we do everything we can after this earthquake, mobilizing people to help build, mobilizing National Guard members who can help with the cleanup, teams to work with infrastructure, doctors, whatever the people of Puerto Rico need, we are going to be there to help them," Cuomo said.
Guánica Mayor Santos "Papichy" Seda was optimistic about the visit. He said one of his priorities is to complete the inspection of all homes in Guánica so residents can feel safe. He told Cuomo that the earthquake also destroyed the city hall and community centers.
"The fact that he is here, that he is walking here with us, shows a commitment... Given this scenario, I know and I am hopeful that he will be helping us to access those federal funds that we need so much," Seda said.
On Saturday, Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced formally asked President Trump to issue a major disaster declaration in six municipalities in the southern area. The initial damage estimate of damages totals $110 million, however, preliminary estimates by five municipalities total more than $460 million.
While visiting La Esperanza in Guánica, Cuomo urged Trump to pay attention to the island and forget about partisan politics.
"When you are an American citizen, you are an American citizen and the people of Puerto Rico need our help, they need our assistance and they deserve it. They deserve more from the federal government than they have received and it has nothing to do with politics, it is about human principles," he said.
Cuomo promises help
During his visit to the Costa Sur power plant, which remains inoperative due to the earthquakes, Cuomo said that experts from the New York Power Authority (NYPA) are ready to assist the Electric Power Authority (PREPA) in assessing the damage and its eventual repair.
Cuomo also criticized President Donald Trump's administration, whom he accused of not properly responding to this emergency and of treating Puerto Ricans as second class American citizens.
"It is not a political priority for them and it is shameful. What (the state of) New York is doing today is filling that role the federal government is supposed to do," the governor told reporters who accompanied him on his tour of the plant.
"I know what the federal government can do it when it wants to do it and when it's committed. I think this federal government is not committed (to Puerto Rico)," added Cuomo, who was director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) during Bill Clinton's administration and assisted in the island's recovery from Hurricane Georges in 1998.
Regarding NYPA's assistance, Cuomo added that it would be coordinated as part of the agreement with PREPA after Hurricane María hit the island in 2017. Engineers and other NYPA experts are collaborating on the design and construction of Puerto Rico's new resilient power grid.
"Now, the Authority needs more from us because of the earthquake and that's why we're here. We want to know what the Authority and the island need, and how fast the recovery response can be," he said.
The tour was guided by PREPA Generation Director Daniel Hernández, who did not comment on Cuomo's expressions regarding the federal response.
"I can't say anything about that," he told reporters
Hernández just indicated that PREPA is in conversations with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to install portable generators to compensate for the megawatt deficit of the Costa Sur's system.
On Friday, PREPA Executive Director José Ortiz said 500 to 800 megawatts would be installed so that the grid does not run out of reserves and can respond to any unexpected breakdowns or contingencies.
PREPA and FEMA would install the required equipment once President Trump approves a major disaster declaration for Puerto Rico.
Hernández showed Cuomo the damage to the power plant, including cracked walls and floors, broken transformers and a water tank that was damaged by the earthquake.
"This plant is 60 years old and was built on land reclaimed from the sea. Repairs will take more than a year," said the Generation director.
The New York Governor arrived almost at night at the Bernardino Cordero School in Ponce along with some state assemblymen, who saw people sleeping on cots outdoors, fearing that additional tremors would cause the structure to collapse.
At 5:00 p.m. yesterday, there were 976 people in the shelter: 505 adults between 22 and 65 years old and 185 66 and older.
Many of them don´t have damaged homes but don´t feel safe in there.
New York State Assembly member Maritza Dávila said that one of the recommendations for assistance she made to Cuomo is to send more mental health professionals to help with the demand for such services in the south of the island.
Dávila said she has been in Puerto Rico for several days and has noticed the need for such assistance.
"Psychological help is among the most needed services. There are only 180 professionals on the island and they are going through this too. So we need to bring in more psychologists. I was talking to the governor about that and we're going to work on it," she said.
Reporter Alex Figueroa Cancel collaborated with this story.