Puerto Rico recovery: Kemberly Richardson reports

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Thursday, October 5, 2017
Kemberly Richardson reports from Puerto Rico
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Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson covers the Hurricane Maria recovery effort in Puerto Rico.

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (WABC) -- Eyewitness News reporter Kemberly Richardson is in Puerto Rico, covering the recovery effort underway after the devastation left behind by Hurricane Maria.

For many in our area, it is agonizing, not hearing from loved ones in Puerto Rico.

It's something Jose Falero has heard over and over while here in Puerto Rico.

He's part of a team from New York City Emergency Management carrying out potentially lifesaving wellness checks.

Hurricane Maria practically destroyed the island's communication system, leaving many families with no way to contact loved ones, like 94-year-old Monserate Guzman.

Eyewitness News hit the road with the team who has a satellite phone.

They contacted Ms. Guzman's grandson in New York City, NYPD Officer Juan Virella, this was this first time he heard her voice since the storm hit.

And Jose's father, 79-year-old Joaquin Falero, cell phone video captured the moment they connected.

The team also stopped at a woman's home who was thrilled to see them. She is 83-years-old and had been stuck in her home for days.

Of the team made up of 20 people, half are NYPD officers. They've carried out more than 100 wellness checks so far.

Earlier Wednesday, we met two New Yorkers, Jasmine and Carol, in San Juan Wednesday for a birthday celebration. But Hurricane Maria crashed the party, and suddenly the women were stranded, with no flights were leaving Puerto Rico. The first flight out was October 4, but the women said it didn't feel right, lounging on the beach when so many people were in need.

They met a local woman, Laura, whose town was heavily damaged by the storm. They all became fast friends and made it their mission to help.

The trio was able to get water and supplies from FEMA, got vehicles and personally delivered it all to the town. The experience had a lasting effect on everyone.

Carol and Jasmine say it was not the party trip they planned, but it was so much more.


Tuesday, we headed south and east to a town about 45 minutes outside of San Juan as part of a special FDNY convoy, the department's Incident Management Team.

They are here on the island helping local firefighters get their stations back up and running. There is no power at any fire stations in Puerto Rico, and that means crews do not know if there is an emergency in the neighborhood.

The only way they find out is if someone runs and bangs on the door.

The men at one station in Humacao were overwhelmed when the team showed up. Daniel tells me the FDNY is very gracious.

People in town are desperate for food and water, and say they've had one delivery and that's it since the storm.

They are begging President Trump to do more.

The governor of Puerto Rico says the official death toll from Hurricane Maria has been increased to 34 from 16. Gov. Ricardo Rossello also says he believes the hurricane caused $90 billion in damage across the island.

The governor made the announcement at a news conference following U.S. President Donald Trump's short visit to the U.S. territory to assess the storm's impact.

During his stop, Trump congratulated Puerto Ricans for avoiding a high death toll of "a real catastrophe like Katrina." As many as 1,800 people died in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina breached levees protecting New Orleans.


Driving in the neighborhoods just outside of the city center in San Juan, it's clear nothing here is straight forward.

Many, many homes still have no running water or electricity. The infrastructure is in disrepair and folks living here tell me they are not hopeful much will change after President Trump visits Puerto Rico Tuesday.

One woman begged me to tell her when FEMA was coming to her home.

Remarkably even with all of this destruction, locals are strong both emotionally and mentally, coming together to help each other and THAT is inspiring.

"The federal government is doing everything within our powers and capabilities to first focus on the life sustaining and life saving measures as well as on the rebuilding process. We've got over 12,000 federal staff on the ground, 64 hospitals out of 67 are partially or fully operational; 14 are now back on the electrical grid. 45-percent of customers in Puerto Rico have access to drinking water. Eight commercial airports are operational. 65-percent of gas stations are open. All of these things are things that we're continuing to push continuing to move forward and will be part of that effort," said Sarah Huckabee Sanders, White House Press Secretary. "The president will be flying to Puerto Rico (Tuesday) to view the devastation and he will assure the people there that we are with them 100-percent today and for the long haul. Puerto Ricans have shown incredible resilience and we are fully committed to helping them rebuild their lives."

The president's visit comes two weeks after Hurricane Maria angrily rushed ashore. President Trump will meet with first responders and federal officers, in addition to hearing directly from residents living without power and basic services.

Also invited to meet with the president, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz. President Trump took to Twitter this past weekend to criticize her leadership after she decried the federal response.

At least 95 percent of electricity customers are still without power, including some hospitals.

FEMA said it has now reached every municipality, but the authorities still have not reached all the people.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long flew to San Juan Monday and traveled to the hard-hit island's interior.

He praised the 13,000 federal employees for their hard work and says he saw signs of normal routines returning."