SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — The north side of Puerto Rico, including San Juan, was plunged back into darkness Thursday when a major power line shut down. The setback comes as FEMA is offering to fly thousands of storm victims to the U.S. mainland.
Six weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, 2,200 residents are still living in shelters.
Elsie Ortiz has been sleeping on a cot in a gymnasium for 41 days.
“It’s very sad seeing the way I am so helpless,” the 74-year-old said. “It’s hard, but we make the best of it. Everybody, more or less, everybody gives themselves a hand.”
The destruction is so vast that FEMA cannot find enough temporary housing or hotels. So, the only option is to organize an airlift and fly residents to the mainland.
Mikey Byrne is FEMA’s top officer on the island. Surprisingly, he says they aren’t getting many takers for airlift.
“We’ve never done this before,” Byrne said. “We are going out now to do interviews in the shelters where people still are and see if they have an interest and so far we are seeing a very low level of interest to take advantage of the program.”
But Florida Congressman Darren Soto says his office has been overwhelmed with calls for help. Some 140,000 Puerto Ricans have already fled on their own to Florida.
“I don’t think they are really listening,” Soto said. “Obviously there’s an interest in not having a mass exodus from the island, we are sensitive to that. But these are American citizens and they should be able to travel freely.”
Glena Bonila Colon is planning to quit her job and sign up for the airlift.
“I don’t want to be in Puerto Rico,” she said. “I want to go to the States. I deserve something better for me. Much better than what I have right now.”
The offer from FEMA is a round-trip ticket to Florida and New York for a hotel stay up to 45 days. They will not pay for food or transportation once evacuees get to their hotel, and that’s one reason why some people are reluctant to leave.
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