Pennsylvania Latino lawmakers call on Governor Wolf to issue PEMA relief and further aid to Puerto Rico
The Commonwealth recently sent two agents of Pennsylvania Task Force-1 to the Hurricane-battered island and provide as-needed assistance.
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Puerto Rico begins its recovery efforts following Hurricane Fiona’s passage through the island on Monday, Sep. 19th, and Pennsylvania lawmakers are asking Governor Tom Wolf to extend further relief. Fiona is a Category 1 Hurricane that lashed through the island just one day before Hurricane Maria’s five-year anniversary.
“I am concerned about the aftermath of the hurricane; a lot of people are being evacuated from high-risk areas and they won’t be able to return to their houses any time soon,” said State Representative Danilo Burgos, who chairs the National Hispanic Caucus.
Burgos and Representative Manny Guzman urged the Governor to activate the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA), a government body that oversees disaster relief planning and preparedness in the event of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, or other human-made disasters, according to its website.
Through PEMA, according to the reps, the Commonwealth can direct resources on a larger scale throughout the island, which experienced severe flooding, island-wide power outages, and extensive infrastructure loss, including the loss of a bridge in the town of Utuado. Many losses date back to five years ago when Maria, a devastating Category 5 Hurricane struck the island, leaving unprecedented levels of damage.
“They need our help; we urge the solidarity of all state-related institutions, in particular PEMA, to join us in this humanitarian cause. We cannot leave behind our Puerto Rican and Dominican brothers and sisters who are facing devastation,” Burgos noted.
On Monday, the legislature deployed two members of PA Task-Force 1 to Puerto Rico as an immediate response effort. Among them was Ken Pagurek, captain at the Philadelphia Fire Department and the task force’s Program Manager.
As they departed at Philadelphia airport, Pagurek told local outlets the two members would perform initial assessments and intervene as needed, but did not comment on whether the agency plans to send further aid should the need arise on the ground.
"I hope that I can go down there and represent the citizens of Philadelphia and the Commonwealth appropriately," Pagurek told 6ABC.
Fiona dealt swift damage on an already recovering island since Maria’s passage, which left a deteriorated infrastructure. Many citizens weathered the hurricane with awnings as they waited for FEMA to release the necessary funding to begin rebuilding.
Just a few days prior to Fiona, when it was still classified as a tropical storm, a public hearing was held to discuss $9.5 billion in ongoing projects and developments with FEMA rep Anne Bink, as well as a LUMA spokesperson.
During the proceedings, Bink was unable to specify how the funds were distributed among the 40 pending projects, which were still subject to approval. LUMA’s spokesperson told the committee that $40 million were issued for continuing restoration projects for Puerto Rico’s central grid.
LUMA itself has been the subject of heightened scrutiny, following a year of unreliable service, resulting in haphazard power outages due to the deteriorated nature of the power grid. On Sept. 19, before Fiona made landfall, it was reported that 100% of LUMA clients lost electricity.
“A lot of people are suffering the effects of Hurricane Fiona. As a legislator I feel compelled to work diligently to provide resources and the necessary help to people impacted by this natural catastrophe. To help them is also to help the people that I represent in my district because they are concerned about the well-being of their relatives back home in the islands,” Guzman expressed.
According to 2014 census data, Pennsylvania is the state with the 4th largest Puerto Rican population in the U.S., accounting for 3.3% of the state’s total population, and 50% of the Hispanic group.
AL DIA News has reached out for comment.