By Kiara Alfonseca | ABC News
Hurricane Fiona has pummeled Puerto Rico, an island whose infrastructure struggled to recover from the devastating Hurricane Maria that killed almost 3,000 people in 2017.
Fiona left many without electricity and water, including Pedro Julio Serrano, a resident and human rights activist.
«It’s not a natural disaster. This is a political disaster,» Serrano told ABC News.
Some Puerto Ricans who spoke with ABC News are frustrated with the lack of progress in reconstructing the island so residents no longer have to worry about having running water, electricity, and safe roads, buildings and more.
After Maria, many elderly, sick, and disabled people died because they didn’t have the electricity or access to the care and necessities they required, according to Puerto Rican officials. Following Fiona, hospitals and people in need of care have been left scrambling to find generators to support them, according to Puerto Rico’s Gov. Pedro Pierluisi.
«The vast majority of the people who died [from Maria] was because of incompetence and because people couldn’t get their power back for months,» Julio Serrano said. «What is happening is criminal.»
Some residents said local and federal governments have had several years to fix things.
«We really shouldn’t have to be resilient in the 21st century, when we’re supposed to be a part of the richest nation in the world,» Victor Amauri, referring to Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory, told ABC News. Amauri is a resident and spokesperson for Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, a local activist group.
Puerto Rico’s electric system has long been unstable, even before Hurricane Maria devastated the island. As a result, blackouts have been a regular part of life for many residents for the last five years, according to island residents.
Those who spoke with ABC News say they blame LUMA, a private company that has operated and managed Puerto Rico’s electric power transmission and distribution system since June 2021.
LUMA said it was currently working with customers to restore power and stabilize the grid.
«We will continue to work non-stop until every customer is restored and the entire grid is reenergized» LUMA Public Safety Manager, Abner Gómez, said in a statement. «While these efforts continue over the coming days, we strongly encourage customers to continue to exercise caution and stay away from any downed power lines.»
Much of the federal money allocated to help fix the electric grid has not been spent due to disagreements between Puerto Rican officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency on how to use it.
LUMA, as well as the Puerto Rican Governor Pedro Pierluisi, did not respond to ABC News’ request for comment.
Cynthia Burgos López, resident and executive director of La Maraña, a group dedicated to rebuilding Puerto Rico, told ABC News that residents hadn’t seen the impact of federal dollars on the island.
«Being a colony from the States, we have a lot of money that’s being sent all the time to Puerto Rico, but we have such a corrupt government, that nothing gets to the communities,» she said.
Burgos López recalled the long, but recent history of government officials who have been embroiled in corruption scandals.
At least nine Puerto Rican mayors and several other government officials have been arrested on charges of bribery, extortion, and more in recent years.
Residents said they blame the long-standing corruption, under-resourcing and underfunding for why the island was not ready for Fiona, and why it will not be ready for the next storm.
«We know that without Fiona, we were not having light. So with Fiona, we were going to be monthslong without light,» Burgos López told ABC News.
Some also told ABC News that barriers imposed by the United States — such as the enforcement of the Jones Act, which mandates ships carrying goods between U.S. ports to be built in the United States — have continued to place a financial strain on Puerto Rico and its residents due to increased prices of goods, though it’s a furiously debated topic.
For now, residents are working together to ensure their fellow community members get what they need, and not waiting for outside help to touch down on the island. However, some residents and activists plan to protest, and demand action from officials in the wake of the storm’s damage.
Amauri said there are long lines to get gasoline, people using generators to refrigerate their food, and residents are scrambling to find clean drinking water.
«People are suffering more each day,» he said.