Washington, DC -- FEMA issued a final federal task force report on March 3 detailing the delivery of more than $2 billion in critical assistance for Puerto Rico's long-term recovery from Hurricane Georges, which ravaged the island in September 1998. FEMA Director James Lee Witt chaired the Federal Interagency Task Force appointed by President Clinton for the hurricane rebuilding effort.
"The federal family and the government of Puerto Rico embraced the philosophy of Project Impact: Building Disaster-Resistant Communities by making mitigation and safe housing long-term recovery priorities," Witt said. "By using recovery assistance as an opportunity to rebuild safer and smarter, the people of Puerto Rico are committing their time, energy and resources to ensuring that they never again have to suffer such extensive disaster damage."
Under a plan drawn up by the task force in January last year, the President directed FEMA and other federal agencies to make available a wide range of grants, loans and technical resources to implement five key long-term recovery objectives. These priorities were: housing, mitigation, economic revitalization and sustainability, energy and transportation.
According to the final report, entitled Faces of Recovery, federal commitments included:
- Housing: More than $1 billion provided for repairing and replacing damaged homes and meeting other critical housing and disaster-related needs. The assistance included $887.7 million in FEMA grants, $115.2 million in U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) disaster home loans, $5.97 million in Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Housing grants and loans, and $2.28 million in Department of Housing and Urban Development funds for mortgage insurance.
- Mitigation: FEMA hazard mitigation grants totaling $209.8 million committed in support of Gov. Pedro Rossell?'s New Secure Housing Program for building disaster-resistant homes. Additionally, $142.3 million was authorized by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for flood control projects and $12.5 million in USDA funds for buyouts of flood-prone rural homes and Emergency Watershed Protection Program mitigation projects.
- Economic Revitalization and Sustainability: More than $138 million provided in grants and loans by the SBA, the USDA Farm Service Agency, the Department of Labor, and the Department of Commerce's Economic Development Administration (EDA) to meet the long-term recovery needs of farmers and businesses, sustain existing employment, create new job opportunities and stimulate industrial development.
- Energy: In addition to $394.2 million obligated by FEMA for restoring the damaged infrastructure, $132.8 million was provided by the agency to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority for building a stronger, more reliable utility system to reduce power losses during future disasters.
- Transportation: The Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration and FEMA committed $107 million for public works projects and restoring road systems that included the rebuilding of permanent bridges designed to be more secure and weather-resistant.
In addition, FEMA's National Flood Insurance Program paid out more than $25.4 million in flood claims and issued 6,832 new policies, bringing the total number of flood insurance policies in Puerto Rico to 50,575. More than $5.1 million also was provided by the EDA for the reconstruction of farm roads and flood mitigation projects, including a $2 million grant to the Puerto Rico Industrial Development Corporation to support its industrial park flood-control program.