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Una estructura destruida por el huracán María. (GFR Media)
Una estructura destruida por el huracán María. (GFR Media)

Yesterday, Omar Marrero, director of the Central Recovery, Reconstruction and Resiliency Office (COR3), announced that following the approval of an office in Congress and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), they will start demolishing 16,000 structures severely damaged by Hurricane María. 

FEMA is expected to invest $400 million for the demolition of private damaged structures. The project will be developed by the Infrastructure Financing Administration (AFI, Spanish acronym), which in order to advance the process will invest $5.7 million in selecting a company to handle demolitions, debris removal, and the required environmental studies. 

"AFI will lead this initiative to demolish properties that were damaged by Hurricane María and could represent a danger," said Marrero. 

 According to Marrero, demolitions will help with reconstruction projects, since there will be more vacant lots for those projects. 

 Eduardo Rivera Cruz, AFI executive director, said that they have already identified 16,000 properties based on mayors´ recommendations. None of the officials mentioned what criteria were followed to select the structures, whose eligibility is still in the hands of FEMA.   

The federal government will finance 90 percent of this project. Since it represents a $400 million investment, the initiative needs the approval of the Congressional Office of Legislative Affairs, Marrero said. 

Marrero acknowledged that these demolitions should have done earlier, during the recovery process and not 18 months after the hurricane. He admitted that this initiative, like many other reconstruction efforts, has suffered delays. 

"The process is not under our control. It is a FEMA Category B project. We are just starting," Marrero added.  

On the other hand, he indicated that FEMA agreed to extend until May 17 the deadline for houses of worship to request public assistance for hurricane-related damages. 

Marrero said that, so far, 31 churches were eligible for reimbursement; five are under review and another 60 are under evaluation since the claims were submitted last week. 

Changes in FEMA 

During the press conference, Marrero also announced changes in FEMA in Puerto Rico. Mike Byrne, who has been leading recovery efforts on the island since October 2017, will be replaced by Jonathan Hoyes, who works on public assistance projects at FEMA in Washington D.C. 

  Hoyes will be the third federal official to direct FEMA's operations in Puerto Rico after Hurricane María.