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Nearly 60 million emergency meals and more than 30 million gallons of water - that is what FEMA has delivered to people in Puerto Rico since Hurricane Maria hit in September. But now the agency is about to shut down the direct delivery of food and water, and some people think it might be too soon. NPR's Adrian Florido reports.
ADRIAN FLORIDO, BYLINE: One place that's come to rely on FEMA's food and water deliveries is Morovis. It's a small city spread over a lush, mountainous area in central Puerto Rico with houses lined up almost on top of the winding mountain roads. Police officer Angel Nieves drives me around. He says this beautiful terrain is what made it hard to get that food and water to people. The hurricane took out power, water, roads.
ANGEL NIEVES: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: He says early on, the city set up distributions in the center of town, but lots of people, especially the old and sick, couldn't get there. So teams of city workers started going door to door like the one we meet at the home of Carmen Maria Quinones. She lives alone, a widow.
CARMEN MARIA QUINONES: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: The team hands her a case of water.
QUINONES: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "I haven't had enough water," she says, and getting to town to buy it has been hard for her. The hurricane destroyed a bridge leading up to this part of the mountain. Quinones says she relies on what her children bring when they visit and on the supplies from FEMA. But FEMA will end its distribution of food and water to cities on January 31. The agency estimates that only 1 percent of Puerto Rico's population still needs the help. Alejandro De La Campa is FEMA's director here.
ALEJANDRO DE LA CAMPA: We're trying to bring Puerto Rico back to normal. So we need to bring back the economy of Puerto Rico. People need to start buying in supermarkets. You know, it's obvious that if you get something for free, you're not going to go buy it.
FLORIDO: De La Campa says FEMA is moving out of the emergency phase of its work in Puerto Rico and into the longer-term recovery phase. So when it comes to providing emergency commodities, he says...
DE LA CAMPA: FEMA has responsibilities up to a certain point, and then we need to see what other options could be available beyond FEMA.
FLORIDO: The agency's plan is to transfer the rest of its food and water supplies to its local counterpart, the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency, or PREMA, so it can finish distributing them. Nonprofits will also get supplies. But FEMA's plans are not sitting well with some local officials, including Carmen Maldonado, the mayor of Morovis. She says her workers are still delivering FEMA's food and water to 10,000 people, a third of her city's population. These are people with no electricity, no working fridge. They can't resume their normal grocery shopping.
CARMEN MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "Money they'd normally spend on groceries they're spending on gas for their generators," Maldonado says. She thinks FEMA should continue distributing aid until power and water are fully restored. She worries, too, about FEMA's plan to entrust the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency with distributing the food and water that remains.
MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "It's a big mistake," she says. She has no faith that PREMA will effectively distribute the supplies. She hasn't heard back from the agency on how her city will continue receiving food after January 31. I asked PREMA that question, too - no response. A spokeswoman for FEMA told me there is a backup plan in case areas don't get the food and water they need. The mayor says her crews will keep distributing FEMA's food as long as they can get it. And if they can't...
MALDONADO: (Speaking Spanish).
FLORIDO: "We'll figure out another way to get people the food they need," she says. "We have no choice." Adrian Florido, NPR News, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
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