WPCNR ALBANY ROUNDS. From the OFFICE OF GOVERNOR ANDREW M. CUOMO. September 30, 2017:
On Saturday,, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo was a guest on CNN with Ana Cabrera. A rush transcript of the Governor’s interview is available below, where he comments on the progress of U.S. government recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after 10 days:
Ana Cabrera: Joining us now on the phone, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York of course is home to arguably the largest population of Puerto Ricans outside of the island. Governor, thank you for spending some time with us. I know you got a chance to see firsthand the devastation just days after this hurricane. What struck you?
Governor Cuomo: The level of devastation. As bad as it looks in the pictures, it’s actually worse in person, Ana. And frankly, the slowness on the response, you know. It’s a great debate now on twitter, but I don’t think there’s any question that if the tape was replayed, you would have seen more federal sources and resources pre-deployed before the situation.
Once the storm hits, now you’re playing catch up. And I think part of the complication is FEMA’s orientation is to support the local government. If you ask them, they’ll say their role is to support the local government.
That’s one situation in Florida or Texas or New York where you have a local government with a lot of resources. It’s a different situation in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico had a lot of big problems to begin with. So I think they (FEMA) were just slow in the pre-deployment.
Ana Cabrera: Do you think any of that had to do with being spread a little thin, given there had been two other devastating hurricanes that have hit the U.S?
Governor Cuomo: Actually, I don’t. The federal government has tremendous resources. We have resources. Every state has the national guard. We have equipment. I sent down hundreds of national guard, black hawk helicopters, I sent down my state police.
The federal government could have put out a call. They could have put out anything they wanted.
I think they underestimated the situation and they underestimated the amount of support that Puerto Rico was going to need because as a local government, because as a local government it just has fewer resources and it’s one thing to help Florida and Texas.
It’s another situation in Puerto Rico. It’s an island. It’s isolated. It’s basically insolvent. So the federal government has to play a much larger role.
I think the thing to focus on now is what’s next, right.
We are in this first phase, which is the emergency response phase. They call it three hots and a cot. Get people water, medical supplies, et cetera. You’re then going to the rebuilding phase.
And let’s not make the same mistake twice.
Let’s anticipate the scope of the rebuilding. Because the truth is we don’t want to replace what was there in Puerto Rico.
Much of the equipment was sub-standard. The power system, the grid was substandard. You’re going to pump billions of dollars into Puerto Rico.
How do you use those funds and actually rebuild the island to a better place? Not just a build back, but to build back better and that’s what we should be thinking about now so we don’t have to play catch up again.
Ana Cabrera: I hear you and I think anybody can agree with your sentiments. Let me read you some of the latest numbers we’re just getting right now from FEMA in terms of what the situation, what the reality is in Puerto Rico right now.
We know that according to FEMA, the Urban Search and Rescue Teams have now covered 100 percent of Puerto Rico, they’ve made some 843 rescues. They say we are hearing that 45 percent of customers now have potable water, so not quite 50 percent are dealing with running water.
There are still a lot of people who do not have that bare necessity (water).
Only five percent of electricity has been restored, 33 percent of the telecommunications infrastructure is back up and 11 percent of cell phone towers are functioning. How do you read those numbers 10 days after the disaster?
Governor Cuomo: It’s not acceptable. You know? There’s no debate. The only thing the federal government can say is, “Well, Puerto Rico wasn’t in a position to help. Puerto Rico had problems.”
Yes. That’s the nature of the beast. That’s like the doctor saying, “Well, you know, the patient was sick.” Yeah. I know the patient is sick.
And it’s what I was saying before. FEMA’s orientation is, we’re here to support the local government. But for Puerto Rico, support means you have to bring all the resources and it should not have taken this long.
These are American citizens. They are American citizens. This is not an operation of mercy in a foreign country. They are our brother and sister Americans.
The one thing this country has been very good at, and I’m in New York so I lived through 9/11. When things are at their worst, people are at their best and Americans come together to help Americans.
I’m sure this president could have had all the support he needed to put together whatever forces, funds, etcetera Puerto Rico required. We’re doing a volunteer drive all across the state this weekend. It’s amazing what people are giving and donating and how they want to help. Everyone you talk to wants to help.
Ana Cabrera: No doubt about it. Governor Andrew Cuomo, thank you so much. Thank you for the efforts that are happening right now in your state. We appreciate it.