3-Star General Leaving Puerto Rico as Recovery Effort Winds Down
The amphibious assault ships Kearsarge and Wasp and the transport dock Oak Hill have all sailed away from Puerto Rico. And this week, the Army general in charge of the military's relief effort on the ground is also leaving the island.
Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan will be taking hundreds of service members and dozens of helicopters with him when he departs, as the aid effort in Puerto Rico transitions from relief to recovery from the devastation caused when Hurricane Maria hit the island Sept. 20.
"I think we're in the right place to transition" the recovery from the military to Puerto Rican authorities and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, Buchanan told CNN on Monday.
But "I have mixed emotions" about the work left to be done, he added.
More than 2,100 Puerto Ricans remain in shelters nearly two months after the storm, about half of the island's 3.4 million U.S. citizen residents are still without power, and many communities lack access to safe drinking water.
About 150,000 Puerto Ricans whose homes and livelihoods were destroyed have left the island, mostly for New York and Florida, according to FEMA.
"I have tremendous pride in all these troops" who have joined in aiding Puerto Rico "and they've done a phenomenal job, but the work isn't done," Buchanan said. "We're out of the emergency phase, but people still need help."
When Buchanan, commander of U.S. Army North, arrived in Puerto Rico in late September, more than 11,700 service members were providing relief. That number is now down to under 10,000. About 2,500 Army reservists called to active duty and 5,000 members of Puerto Rico's National Guard will continue assistance.
More than 72 helicopters were involved in relief missions in late September. That number is down to 38 and will be reduced to 14 by the end of this week.
During Buchanan's time on the island, the military and federal agencies delivered and distributed 51 million gallons of water and 20 million meals while providing medical assistance to about 5,000 residents, according to U.S. military officials.
"The cessation of Gen. Buchanan's work does not mean that the military is leaving," Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said in a statement.
"His departure marks a positive transition. We have not finished the recovery, but there is progress in the missions that have been carried out," he said.
Rossello said Buchanan will be replaced by a two-star general who has yet to be named.
On Monday, the governor said he would be making a formal request to the White House and Congress for $94.4 billion in aid to help the island recover.
Rossello said the request would include $46 billion to restore housing through the Community Development Block Grant program, $30 billion from FEMA to rebuild infrastructure, and $17.9 billion in other federal grant programs for long-term recovery.
At a hearing of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on Tuesday, Rossello said he expects to announce this week that 50 percent of the island's power grid has been restored, but he pointed to the major efforts ahead in the recovery.
Hurricane Maria was "not a partial disaster, it was a total catastrophe," he said.
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, the committee's chairwoman who visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last week, said, "It is clear that there is much, much, much to do."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.
|Headlines Disaster Recovery Hurricane Army|