FRONTLINE and NPR investigate the federal response to Hurricane Maria — and uncover a government relief effort in chaos, struggling with key contracts, basic supplies and its own workforce.
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Especially in contrast to the government’s response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the U.S. mainland.
In the above excerpt from “Blackout in Puerto Rico,” NPR’s Laura Sullivan, the documentary’s correspondent, reports that just over a week after the storms hit, the federal government had three times as many people on the ground in Texas, and twice as many in Florida, as it did in Puerto Rico.
And while Puerto Rico’s hiring of Whitefish, a company with no experience restoring power grids, caused controversy, few knew that the federal government had taken a similar step.
“All of a sudden, about the eighth day in, the administration asked us to be able to step up and to be able to take on this mission of grid repair,” said Lt. Gen Todd Semonite, Chief Engineer of the Army Corps of Engineers, about his agency’s effort to restore power. “But it is not something that we even planned on doing in any kind of a disaster. We don’t do grid repair., usually, normally, doctrinally …”
In the above excerpt, Sullivan talks with Semonite about how the Army Corps went on to contract with a company that, while experienced in building power plants, had no experience putting power grids back together. She also speaks with questions FEMA’s Michael Byrne, the agency’s coordinating officer for Puerto Rico, who defends the federal response.
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