3 years later, Hurricane Maria recovery continues in Puerto Rico

ORLANDO, Fla. — Almost three years since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the COVID-19 pandemic is complicating recovery efforts.

Since then, the Latino population in Central Florida has grown as people left the island during the recovery process.

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Rear Admiral Peter Brown, tasked with leading Puerto Rico’s disaster recovery efforts, says there are still more than a dozen federal departments at work rebuilding the island.

The Federal Government has allocated close to $50 billion for response and relief operations, much of which hasn’t actually been disbursed to date.

When asked why, Brown blames the Puerto Rican Government’s inability to manage such a high level of funding, but he says that situation has improved in recent months.

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“It’s a challenge. Puerto Rico has been hit by an unprecedented series of disasters,” Brown adds.

Before Hurricane Maria, there was Hurricane Irma, followed by political unrest, earthquakes, then the coronavirus pandemic.

Brown says the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is approving more new projects now than before, but the COVID-19 outbreak is causing construction delays.

"Anything that the federal government can do to get the economy of Puerto Rico back on a sound and sustainable footing is what we’re doing,' Brown adds.

But if that doesn’t happen, more Puerto Ricans could be making their way into Central Florida, which could put a strain on an infrastructure that’s already close to capacity.

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“We want to see if we can reverse that trend by creating more opportunity in Puerto Rico,” Brown says.

Brown adds the recovery process can be a decade-long process. He estimates efforts in Puerto Rico could take upwards of 15 years.