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  6. Coordinated Federal Support Continues for U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria

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In an effort to keep DHS.gov current, the archive contains outdated information that may not reflect current policy or programs.

Coordinated Federal Support Continues for U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico Following Hurricanes Irma and Maria

Release Date: October 12, 2017

For Immediate Release
FEMA News Desk
Phone: 202-646-3272

WASHINGTON – FEMA and the full force of the federal government continue to make progress towards recovery, working hand-in-hand with U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico officials, municipalities, businesses, and voluntary agencies on the islands since Hurricane Irma’s landfall on Sept. 6 and Hurricane Maria’s landfall on Sept. 19.

Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused catastrophic damage across both the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. After enduring two Category IV hurricanes in less than two weeks, nearly all critical infrastructure was devastated. 

While very real challenges to restoring damaged infrastructure remain, more than 19,000 federal civilian personnel and military service members are supporting the islands, working 24 hours a day in support of the hurricane disaster relief mission. These efforts include restoring power and potable water, returning hospitals to operation, increasing fuel supplies, increasing cell phone coverage, and re-opening transportation facilities.

Although it will take time for communities to recover, residents are seeing some services being restored in their communities. FEMA, in coordination and partnership with 36 federal departments and agencies, remains focused on helping the people of the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico with life-sustaining commodities and other essential services. As more businesses open and public services are restored, quality of life will continue to improve for many residents. 

Tangible signs of recovery in the U.S. Virgin Islands include full restoration and operation of 911 services in St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John. As of Tuesday, some schools reopened on St. Thomas. More schools are scheduled to reopen in St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix in the coming days. 

In St. Thomas, 95 percent of roadways are passable and no major roadways are closed. Airports are open for commercial service in St. Thomas and St. Croix. In St. Croix, a Disaster Recovery Center opened Sunday where survivors are receiving one-on-one support. Across the U.S. Virgin Islands, service providers have numerous wi-fi hot spots set up to facilitate internet access for survivors, including several new locations opening this week in St. Croix.

In Puerto Rico, all airports and federally-maintained deep-water ports are open to full operations or operating with restrictions, and power has been restored to 96 percent of hospitals. Additionally, the metropolitan bus service by Autoridad Metropolitana de Autobuses restarted. 

In Puerto Rico, FEMA approved more than $53 million in federal disaster assistance to individuals through the Individuals and Households (IHP) program, for hurricanes Maria and Irma. This federal disaster assistance helps eligible applicants with home repairs, under and uninsured personal property losses and medical, dental and funeral expenses caused by the disaster. It also helps cover other disaster-related expenses and other needs. In addition, to date, FEMA approved more than $169 million in federal funding for emergency work for hurricanes Maria and Irma.  This includes $54.6 million awarded to the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority (PREPA) for the repair of the electrical power system. 

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, FEMA has approved more than $2.5 million in federal disaster assistance through IHP to individuals affected by hurricanes Maria and Irma. In addition, to date, FEMA approved more than $35 million in federal assistance for emergency protective measures, debris removal, and repair or replacement of damaged facilities to territorial, government, and eligible non-profit organizations, under the Public Assistance program.

Below are updates on where we are today in the efforts to support Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in their ongoing recovery from hurricanes Irma and Maria.


Hospitals and Medical

Federal teams, as well as the private sector, continue supporting the governments of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, , to restore power and delivery of fuel to hospitals and medical centers so that essential services to disaster survivors continue to return.

In Puerto Rico, 97 percent of hospitals* have power restored or are operating on generator power.  Four of seven regional pediatric centers are open.  The Veterans Affairs Hospital at San Juan Medical Center has reopened and eight outpatient clinics are seeing patients. Additionally, 46 of the 48 dialysis centers are open*. All hospitals are connected to drinking water service or receive water from water tanker trucks.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) is supporting plans for intermediate-term hospitals to meet health care needs. As part of hospital assessments, satellite phones and portable radios are being provided to assist with maintaining critical services and patient support.

Eleven U.S. Health and Human Services (HHS) medical teams are stationed across Puerto Rico to support local medical facilities, medical shelters and field medical stations. These teams have cared for more than 1,600 patients.  HHS teams are also working with federal and territorial partners to make contact with elder care facilities to ensure they are also being cared for.  In partnership with Department of Defense (DoD), HHS is working with private sector heath care systems on sustainment strategies while electricity is being restored. Also, HHS activated the Emergency Prescription Assistance Program to help 500,000 residents who do not have access to health care.

The United States Naval Ship (USNS) Comfort is currently providing additional support to hospitals by treating critical patients. The USNS Comfort has treated more than 78 acute care patients, ranging in age from six months to 89 years.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, HHS and medical teams are in place supporting medical and hospital operations. A 73-person DoD medical company established mobile medical services at the Schneider Regional Medical Center in St. Thomas and another medical company is setting up a full field medical layout in St. Croix; and HHS personnel are augmenting staff at the Gen. Juan Luis Hospital in St. Croix and the Morris F. deCastro Clinic in St. John. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) personnel are conducting health assessments in St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, while a Public Health Service advisory team is in St. Thomas to provide direct support to the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Health.


The U.S. Department of Education and numerous federal teams are working with Commonwealth and territory government officials to restore school operations to provide educational services for children.

U.S. Virgin Islands schools have begun to reopen this week; seven schools in St. Thomas opened on Oct. 10, and more schools are scheduled to reopen in St. Thomas, St. Croix and St. John in the coming days. The facilities were cleared of debris, and will be operating on alternate power, as required.

The Puerto Rico Department of Education (PRDE) is managing 22 fixed feeding sites at schools. These locations are providing breakfast and lunch for students and survivors seven days a week until further notice. PRDE is working with the Department of Education and its partners to complete assessments of schools.

Commodity Distribution

The distribution of food and water remains a top priority. FEMA, DoD and federal partners have delivered more than 7.6 million meals and 6.4 million liters of water to Puerto Rico, and 4.4 million meals and 2.9 million liters of water to the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Puerto Rico established ten Regional Staging Areas around the island to provide commodities to mayors for distribution to citizens, and the National Guard is supporting delivery of supplies to these locations. Points of distribution are also being established for delivering commodities directly to the public. Supplies were dropped from airplanes to isolated communities in remote areas and places where roads are impassable. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture provided municipalities with hundreds of thousands of meals at fixed facilities. 

The Salvation Army, Feeding America, the American Red Cross and other voluntary agencies continue to deliver food and water across the islands through shelters and senior centers. Additional meals and water continue to arrive to the islands regularly via air and sea.

Power Restoration & Generators

Across the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria destroyed most of the power transmission lines that carry electricity from the power plants to the power distribution centers in major population centers, as well as the local power lines that run to residences and businesses.

Electrical power has been restored to 20 percent of customers in St. John, 20 percent of customers in St. Thomas and 10 percent of customers in St. Croix , with 10 percent restoration* in Puerto Rico.

While progress continues to be made on both islands, federal resources continue to provide temporary power support. U.S. Army Corps of Engineers temporary power response teams have been on the ground since before the storm and continue to assess power needs and install generators at critical facilities.

In Puerto Rico, unified efforts among the Department of Energy, USACE, Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the private sector continue to restore the power grid. As of Oct. 10, USACE installed 53 generators at critical facilities in Puerto Rico, powering critical infrastructure including hospitals and shelters, and completed 240 generator assessments. 

To date, USACE installed 53 generators in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and completed 177 generator assessments.


In Puerto Rico, 53 percent of telecommunications service, wired and wireless, has been restored*, and the U.S. Virgin Islands has 43 percent cell phone coverage.

As more cell towers are being revitalized around the island, communications among disaster survivors, responders, and government municipalities increases. Mayors have satellite phones to facilitate communication with Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency and the federal government.

The private sector is helping lead the communication restoration effort, providing portable cell trucks, known as “Cell on Wheels,” to critical communications areas in Puerto Rico. The trucks are able to provide a two-mile cell phone coverage range on flat terrain.  As of Oct. 5, approximately one-third of Puerto Rico’s very high frequency (VHF) radio system is back online, allowing for communication among more than 30 municipalities.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands, wi-fi hot spots were deployed through a partnership with industry providers to provide connectivity to the public, and are also being used by the territorial government and responders. 

Disaster Survivor Assistance Teams

Disasters Survivor Assistance (DSA) teams are on the ground performing on-the-spot needs assessments, addressing requests for disability-related accommodations, and assisting with referrals to partners offering additional survivor services. 

In some locations, they are accepting on-site registrations for individual assistance financial aid.  DSA teams have registered more than 3,000 survivors for assistance in the U.S. Virgin Islands; and more than 11,000 in Puerto Rico.

*Data provided by Status.pr


Last Updated: 02/05/2021
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