Recovering From Hurricanes In Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Harvey, Irma, Maria. In just the last month, three powerful hurricanes have spun out of the Atlantic and devastated the Gulf Coast, Florida and Puerto Rico. Some communities have had a chance to clean up and begin to move towards normalcy. Others are still trying to get the lights back on. We wanted to check in on some of these places to hear how recovery efforts are going.
In Beaumont, Texas, in late August, Hurricane Harvey dumped so much water on and around the city that it essentially became an island. Thousands of homes were severely damaged. Some people are still living in shelters. We reached Beaumont Mayor Becky Ames. And we asked her if the city has gotten the help it needs from federal and state officials.
BECKY AMES: Governor Abbott has set up a commission that includes every branch of the state government. And he has also assigned to every city mayor an individual person that we can go to if we need something that's not being fulfilled. And I think it's working right.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What about people without flood insurance, people who, you know, simply don't have the means to sort of get back on their feet?
AMES: Well, what FEMA is saying on this round is that they go through the SBA first, which is a small business loan. And there's a loan that can be had for, like, 1.6, 1.7 percent interest up to 30 years, which is unheard of. There are disaster recovery centers set up throughout our county. It's like a one-stop shop of different agencies that can help you. So you can sit across a desk and talk to a person that will basically help you through your individual process.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: In the wake of this storm in other places that have faced similar disasters, they've had to make some tough decisions that have to come from government about building codes, where to build, where to make floodwalls. People are talking about rebuilding their homes. But, certainly, things have to change.
AMES: Yeah. Well, you know, I've lived here all my life, and we are in a hurricane zone. I mean, we've had hurricanes before. However, I have to say this one was much different. This is what they're calling a thousand-year storm. I'm not going to say we're not going to react to it, but you may have heard that Beaumont had a breach in our water system and our pumping station. That location has been there over 100 years and the water has not even come close to it ever. So I think we have to take that in consideration, too.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mayor Becky Ames of Beaumont, Texas.
Two weeks ago, Key West was expecting the worst as Hurricane Irma turned toward the island city. But Mayor Craig Cates tells us that while other towns close by were hit harder by the storm, the recovery in Key West is going well.
CRAIG CATES: We're very fortunate to have a large (unintelligible) team. And the Navy came quickly after it to protect all the Department of Defense assets down there. But then they also brought in (unintelligible) and helicopters and were able to immediately give us help. Actually, we're going to be open for business October 1. We get our first cruise ship at 12:30, try to get everybody back to work at this point, so our citizens get back to making money to help pay for all the damages they've had.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: When those tourists come, sir, and Key West is open for business what will they see that's different. Does it look like a hurricane has come through?
CATES: Oh, yeah, well, because the trees - huge, mature trees - a lot of them went down. But a lot of them missed by it don't have any leaves on them now. Part of that is caused by 12 years of no hurricane. You know, and the trees have gotten very large, which caused them to also fail.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How important were the building codes? We saw that there was minimal damage in some of the newer buildings because they had such stringent building codes.
CATES: Yes. And you can see the older buildings were destroyed at the Keys. And the newer ones had minimal damage. And difference between metal roofs and shingle roofs. And we'll require everyone to have metal roofs after this.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: That was Craig Cates, the mayor of Key West, Fla.
Now to Puerto Rico, parts of which were destroyed by Hurricane Maria this past week. We reached former Puerto Rican Senator Ramon Luis Nieves on his cell phone in the capital city of San Juan yesterday.
RAMON LUIS NIEVES: There's a lot of devastation. One hundred percent of the area is without energy - multiple (unintelligible) without running water. Communications have been down. In order for us to find some kind of communication - by phone, or that we have to go to the highway. And there are some freak spots there. I'm talking to you from one of those spots right now.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I'm trying to understand. You're saying that there's freak spots where cell phones are working. People are gathering at those spots to try and make calls to other loved ones. Are there cars around you where people are also making phone calls?
NIEVES: They are dozens of cars. We are just on the side of the highway to try to call our families to see if we can get some communications or news going on.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Mr. Nieves, I'm curious - how would you assess the U.S. government response to this disaster in Puerto Rico?
NIEVES: Well, I know that President Trump ran the federal disaster for Puerto Rico. I understand that, apart from the federal government, state governments such as the New York state government - they're already here, helping to rebuild Puerto Rico.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What exactly do you need?
NIEVES: In order for us to operate, we need generators - energy power generators - people that have family in Puerto Rico - they can - when they can, send them cash for simple things such as buying some ice. Reserved food or water will be needed, too. And as soon as operations are up, if they can send the money through the mail or any other means that are available, that would be helpful.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Puerto Rico is deep in debt. How are the financial struggles going to affect the recovery effort?
NIEVES: Well, one of the reasons that we lost 100 percent of our energy is that our energy infrastructure is very weak. As a result of this energy company's - PREPA - financial situation, it has not been able to get proper maintenance to the energy grid for years. So, you know, we have had one of the largest immigration in history, you know, in a country that doesn't have a war. And I foresee that as a result of the difficulties of Puerto Rico getting back on its feet. People will really leave the island, sometimes for a while or maybe forever. This hurricane really was in a position whereby there's going to emerge a different Puerto Rico - from this hurricane, from the one we had before the hurricane.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Ramon Luis Nieves, former Puerto Rican senator, thank you very much for your time. (Speaking Spanish).
NIEVES: Thank you. Thank you to all. (Speaking Spanish).
(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SCHULMAN AND QUIET LIFE HOTEL'S "8TH STREET NOCTURNE")
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