Two weeks and at least twenty-five deaths after a Category 1 storm made landfall in Puerto Rico, the island’s infrastructure is still reeling from the aftermath. Hurricane Fiona dropped more than thirty inches of rain in some areas, compromising roads and bridges with the subsequent mudslides. While most residents are no longer cut off from food and medical care, more than 100,000 people are still without electricity as of last Monday.
Though recovery has started, this situation is all too familiar for some residents. Government dysfunction at both the federal and local level has led to continued hardship for the approximately 3.2 million people living in Puerto Rico, with present disasters echoing those of the past. In the devastation after Hurricane Maria, it took almost a year to fully restore power to the island, leading to the restructuring and privatization of Puerto Rico’s electrical infrastructure. LUMA Energy was awarded a $1.5 billion contract by the Puerto Rican government in 2021. Even in the months before Fiona hit, islanders expressed dissatisfaction with LUMA. The Hill reported in early September that Puerto Ricans have been frustrated by continuous, extended power outages and hikes in energy prices since LUMA took over energy transmission.
While LUMA failed to prepare for a storm of Fiona’s magnitude, there was also neglect on the part of the federal government. It was recently discovered that the Trump administration had previously withheld congressionally approved disaster relief aid in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. In 2019, the Washington Post reported that the former president told White House officials “that he did not want a single dollar going to Puerto Rico.” The administration instead wanted those funds allocated to Texas and Florida, ignoring the plight of the US territory.
Puerto Rico’s own government has had it’s own shortcomings. In 2017, it awarded a $300 million contract to Whitefish Energy, an electrical company based out of Montana with alarmingly little experience and even fewer employees. Two to be exact. Needless to say this was a bad deal for Puerto Rico and taxpayers, so bad in fact that the FBI launched an investigation into the deal.
President Biden visited Puerto Rico last Monday to take stock of the damage caused by Hurricane Fiona. In a public address, Biden pledged that the federal government would partner with Puerto Rico to “build faster than in the past, and strong and better prepared for the future.” The White House announced $60 million in federal aid to “shore up levees, fortify flood walls, and create a new flood warning system” for Puerto Rico.