By DÁNICA COTO, Associated Press
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Hurricanes Irma and Maria caused $18.6 billion in damage to housing across Puerto Rico, with only 36 percent of that damage covered by federal and local government officials some four years later, according to a report released Wednesday by a nonpartisan think tank.
The Center for a New Economy, which focuses on Puerto Rico, said in its analysis that $11.87 billion worth of unrepaired damage to homes is pending, a figure that applies only to those who did not have insurance when the storms hit.
“Housing is going to be what to a large extent will determine the success or failure of this reconstruction,” said Raúl Santiago Bartolomei, a research associate with the Center.
Irma was a Category 5 storm that skirted Puerto Rico’s northeast region in September 2017. Maria pummeled the U.S. territory two weeks later as a Category 4 hurricane. An estimated 2,975 people died in the aftermath of Maria, which also razed the island’s power grid, leaving some people without electricity for up to a year.
The center found that the municipalities with the greatest unmet housing needs are the capital of San Juan, the nearby city of Bayamón, and the southern coastal city of Ponce, which also is rebuilding from a series of strong earthquakes that hit almost two years ago.
In September, Puerto Rico Gov. Pedro Pierluisi estimated that between 8,000 and 15,000 homes still had so-called “blue roofs” —tarps distributed by the government as a temporary fix following the hurricanes.
At the time, Pierluisi announced that a further $20 million in federal funds would be used to replace those roofs as well as make other repairs.