It has been nearly two months since Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, but for many residents, the devastation it left behind remains a daily fact of life. Roughly 3,000 people are still living in hundreds of shelters across the island.
Now, the Federal Emergency Management Agency is offering to fly some of those evacuees to the mainland U.S. at federal expense, where they would be put up temporarily in hotels in Florida and New York. The plan, which is reportedly the first of its kind for the agency, intends partly to ease the strain placed on hotels in Puerto Rico, where vacant rooms have been hard to come by.
At the moment, though, it appears Puerto Ricans have been reluctant to take the government up on the offer.
“We are trying to gauge demand,” Mike Byrne, a coordinating officer for FEMA, tells NPR’s Greg Allen and Marisa Peñaloza. “I think we did about 300 interviews yesterday and only maybe 35 expressed an interest.”
He says that based on the fairly low interest so far, “we’ll have to make adjustments to do something else to get them out.”
Still, more than 300 Puerto Ricans who already left for the mainland have received temporary housing in hotel rooms from federal officials. According to Florida Gov. Rick Scott, more than 140,000 people have left the island for his state since the hurricane, with or without federal assistance.
Meanwhile, some relief efforts in Puerto Rico are coming to a close, with many federal troops planning to head home.
“There are about 11,000 troops on the island now — down from more than 15,000 shortly after the hurricane. Over the next few weeks, the number will drop by about half as federal troops hand over responsibilities to National Guardsmen,” Greg and Marisa report.
Yet in communities such as Morovis, where they recently visited, “there’s still no running water … and the only power available here is supplied by emergency generators. Frustration is rising over the slow pace of recovery.”
And some pillars of that recovery, like the reopening of local schools, will have to wait until all the evacuees using those schools have finally found a permanent place to live.