Puerto Ricans out of town in ‘terrible destruction’ after Hurricane Fiona in despair over initial aid cut

    SAN GERMÁN, Puerto Rico—Jorge Luis Rivera, his wife, and two young daughters were trapped in their home for two days after Hurricane Fiona destroyed their ranch, knocked down large trees and left flooding, asphalt, and hard-earned crops over the sloping road in front towed from their property.

    “It became a river, it took all the dirt with it, all the asphalt. It took it all,” Rivera, 36, said in Spanish, speaking from his farm on Friday afternoon.

    The landslides cut off Rivera’s farm, where he still has no power and water, until heavy machinery arrived to try and clean up the destruction. Even some machines were damaged, he said.

    In San Germán, a municipality in southwestern Puerto Rico, families were stranded when the region’s large trees fell under the weight of Fiona’s winds and heavy rain, collapsing and cutting roads. Some houses have suffered heavy damage and are without electricity and water.

    Yet San German is one of the 20 municipalities initially barred from requesting individual help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, based on the declaration of a major disaster requested by the governor of Puerto Rico and approved Thursday by President Joe Biden. Most of the excluded cities were in the southwest region, where Hurricane Fiona came in and wreaked havoc beyond measure.

    Puerto Rican officials are pushing for more municipalities to be added to the major disaster declaration and request individual assistance once they have more information about the damage.

    They also stressed that all of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities, including San Germán, were included to receive public assistance for debris removal and emergency relief, such as providing communities with food, generators and anything else needed to maintain public health. life, according to Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State Omar Marrero.

    ‘Almost all lost’

    But the residents of San German were frustrated that they could not immediately request individual help.

    Rivera’s crops were “almost all lost,” he said, as he climbed the green and brown wreck of Finca Ilán Ilán, which is part of Puerto Rico’s agroecological movement for sustainable agriculture. His calf boots were covered in mud and he carried a machete to cut his way safely through all the rubble.

    Gone were hundreds of avocados, the coffee, aubergines, courgettes and other crops Rivera produces and sells to the community, mainly to nearby restaurants. What’s left is also lost, as his usual customers don’t have power or water to reopen their businesses.

    Jorge Luis Rivera, 36, a farmer in San Germán, Puerto Rico, who lost most of his crops to Hurricane Fiona.Daniella Silva / NBC News

    “I try not to come here often, it depresses me too much,” he said, shaking his head and looking away from the wreckage of his crops. He estimates it could take months to get power back, as it took more than five and a half months after Hurricane Maria five years ago for power to return.

    The family’s generator broke down and in order to save the remains of the crops to feed his family, he connected his refrigerator to his car as a makeshift power source.

    Nearly half of the 1.5 million power customers still had no power six days after the Fiona caused a power outage across the island. the emergency portal of the Puerto Rican government. Most of the customers reconnected to the grid are in the northeast, where the storm caused less damage.

    Seventy-eight percent, or 1,035,743 customers, have had their water supplies restored since Saturday morning, according to the Water and Sewerage Authority. As of Thursday, nearly 440,000 of these customers are getting their service thanks to temporary generators that power certain water bombs. About 292,000 customers (22%) still have no water.

    “Until FEMA comes, I don’t know how we’re going to handle this”

    Adrián Vázquez Bandas, 24, said in Spanish that residents of his hometown were extremely frustrated and concerned about the exclusion from FEMA aid.

    “I go out here every day and I see the need there is,” said Vázquez Bandas, an agronomist and community organizer in the southwestern region at Instituto para la Agroecología, a local nonprofit that supports agroecological collectives. “We have cables on the ground around here, collapsed bridges. I go out with my saw, my drill, screws to clear the way if I trip over fallen trees with debris.”

    The day before, Vázquez had helped Bandas install blue tarps in the homes of eight families living near him.

    “While we can provide them with the materials, they have to fix their roofs, all they can do is set up these blue sails,” he said.

    Many farmers in the southern and western regions have lost all their crops. Despite the dismal outcome, Vázquez Bandas said their first instinct was to go out and help.

    “They’ve worked as emergency volunteers, clearing debris, setting blue sails,” he said. “They tell me they would rather go out and help than stay on their farms and cry over their loss.”

    On Friday afternoon, Carmen Vázquez Ramos, 69, was in what was left of her log home when more rain fell in San Germán. Part of the house was destroyed by the storm, the mangled remains of the thin metal roof that was once a small wooden structure painted a bright sky blue. The washing machines are gone, and the bathroom and kitchen are also damaged.

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