SAN JUAN — Gov. John Bel Edwards capped off a trip to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday with visits to some of the hardest hit areas of the island.
Edwards, who arrived in San Juan on Monday at the invitation of Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, flew to the western side of the U.S territory with Louisiana and Puerto Rican leaders – stopping in Rincón to visit a health clinic and relief sites before returning to Baton Rouge.
"It is going to be a long, long time for a full recovery," Edwards said of the damage he saw. "Obviously, they are going to continue to need our help."
At each stop, Edwards plugged the homeowner assistance program that his administration has been instrumental in helping Puerto Rico establish.
"We've just been able to exchange some ideas and some lessons learned to try to help them incorporate those in their plans so they can prepare for a long-term recovery," Edwards said.
SAN JUAN — With thousands of people still in shelters more than a month after Hurricane Mari…
Hurricane Maria slammed ashore Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm on Sept. 20. In the weeks since, what's been called a "humanitarian crisis" has unfolded with thousands of people still in shelters, more than half of the island without power and growing concerns about its ability to rebuild.
Edwards joined Rosselló on Monday to announce the launch of Tu Hogar Renace, or STEP, which is modeled after Louisiana's post-flood Shelter at Home program.
"Our best planners have been here for a month now, working with them," Edwards said of the joint effort.
The goal is to help Puerto Rico residents get back into their homes more quickly, with bare bones repairs that will be paid for by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Puerto Rico has estimated its program will serve up to 75,000 people – about six times the size of Louisiana's program, Edwards said.
Because of the popularity of concrete and stone homes in Puerto Rico, Edwards said the program won't have to focus so heavily on drywall issues as Louisiana's Shelter at Home did, receiving mixed reviews about the temporary nature of those repairs. Puerto Rico, which is struggling to restore electricity because of its aging power grid, also received approval to cover solar panels and generators through STEP.
"Obviously, the devastation is widespread," Edwards said. "It's on every part of this island."
That includes some remote areas in Puerto Rico's mountainous inland regions officials viewed by helicopter on Tuesday.
Small enclaves marked by blue tarps and piles of debris were amid wind-battered trees.
Edwards said that he's concerned the hillier locations like that could struggle to get supplies as they look to rebuild.
During his tour of Rincon, a colorful coastal community that is in full-scale disaster relief mode, Edwards, joined by Rincon Mayor Carlos Lopez, stopped by a health clinic that until recently had to rely on back-up generators for power.
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SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Gov. John Bel Edwards and top disaster recovery leaders from his adm…
"It's been tough," Susana Perez, the Costa Salud Clinic's director, told Edwards during his tour of the facility.
Edwards asked her about the stories of Puerto Rico residents who have died because they were not able to receive constant care in the storm's aftermath, and Perez said thankfully no patients perished from her clinic.
But she did have one urgent concern: "We need water," she told officials upon their arrival. A representative from Rosselló's office assured her water would arrive shortly.
A couple of blocks away, a beer bar on Rincón's main strip has been converted to a makeshift distribution center for donated items.
Volunteers there were collecting tarps, non perishable foods, water, diapers and other needed items for distribution.
"We could see that there was a lack of leadership just in general," said Deshawn Sargent, a bartender who is helping run the hub. "Everything wasn't going the way it should be."