More Rain In Puerto Rico Brings Misery To Those With Damaged Roofs

Oct 18, 2017
Originally published on October 18, 2017 5:48 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Some other news now from Puerto Rico, which has seen steady rain this week. Rain means more misery for people whose roofs were damaged by Hurricane Maria, and there was already an extreme shortage of tarps that people need to protect their homes. Across the island, people are frustrated by the long wait for tarps, which are usually provided by FEMA and the Army Corps of Engineers. NPR's Adrian Florido has the story.

ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: The view from Nancy Jimenez's rural home is breathtaking. It's perched on the side of a hill in the heart of Puerto Rico, a tiny mountain community called Mata de Cana. Her elderly mother lives on the first floor. Jimenez, her husband and daughter have a separate entrance to the second floor where they live. The storm ripped off the roof - all of it. She invites us upstairs. Above us, it's wide open sky.

NANCY JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She says, welcome to my home. It's completely destroyed, she said, but I still consider it my home.

JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: We're standing in the house, but the roof is wide open. The roof is completely - it's just nonexistent anymore.

JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: (Speaking Spanish).

JIMENEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: This is her daughter's bedroom.

More than anything, Jimenez wants one thing - a tarp, the kind of tarp that FEMA provided the last time a hurricane hit the island hard. She just wants to stay dry. Take Nancy Jimenez's situation and add to it many tens of thousands of families in Puerto Rico, and you begin to understand the extent of the demand. Everywhere we'd gone, people have been asking for tarps.

ALEJANDRO DE LA CAMPA: We need to manage expectations. We don't have the tarps in Puerto Rico.

FLORIDO: Alejandro de la Campa is the FEMA official in charge of Puerto Rico and the Caribbean.

DE LA CAMPA: There were not even tarps in the United States. We have to understand we are in the peak of the hurricane season, so regularly we're always keeping Puerto Rico between 30,000 to 40,000 tarps. At the same time, Maria is the most catastrophic event in Puerto Rico's history.

FLORIDO: There are actually two kinds of tarps. The first is a simple 20-by-25 foot tarp that people can drape over their own homes. De la Campa said manufacturers are working to fill an order for half a million. But FEMA isn't expecting delivery till the end of the month. The second kind is an extra strong tarp placed on top of a reinforced wooden frame, but those are customized for each home, so they have to be installed by crews working for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Twenty-eight foot here. Just stay right there.

FLORIDO: We watched one government-hired crew measuring a house in a working-class neighborhood of San Juan. The plan was to come back in a week or two to build the frame and put the tarp up - close to a day's worth of work. As of early this week, the Army Corps had installed fewer than 500 tarps island-wide. They estimate demand for some 100,000. The Army Corp's John Broachmann, who is overseeing work crews here, said even though FEMA is ramping up personnel...

JOHN BROACHMANN: Our anticipation is that the program really will go on for months. We're all here on the ground doing what we can. All we can do is hope that our government does the right thing and keeps supporting this mission. It's very important.

FLORIDO: As the crew worked upstairs, Gloria Agosto Martinez showed us around the downstairs part of her house.

GLORIA AGOSTO MARTINEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

FLORIDO: She's glad to be getting the tarp soon, but there was no relief in Gloria Agosto's voice. She's been traumatized by storms. Three years ago, her son, a utility worker, was electrocuted and lost both arms while working to replace power lines after a different storm. Her doctor tells her to stop thinking about those things, but she said she can't help it. She's reminded every time it rains. Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.

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