A trip to ravaged Puerto Rico provides disaster training for one UH professor

( Image: Hawaii News Now )
( Image: Hawaii News Now )

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - University of Hawaii Urban Planning professor Karl Kim spent a week in Puerto Rico assessing the ongoing damage from Hurricane Maria. Photographs and drone video he took document the carnage that remains four months after the Category Four hurricane hit the U.S. territory..

"Many homes were destroyed. Many businesses were destroyed. A lot of the infrastructure was disrupted. There are downed power lines. Traffic signals were destroyed," he said.

One-third of Puerto Rico is still without electricity.

"If you don't have electricity, there's no running water," Angel Santiago said.

His mother and step-father just had power restored to their home, but they're still in bad shape.

"We have some water, a way to store water for their necessities, not drinking water but for just the use of the house," he said.

Kim is director of the National Disaster Preparedness Training Center in Honolulu. He said even areas in Puerto Rico with electricity are experiencing blackouts, and the island's distance from the U.S. mainland and difficulty moving supplies through damaged areas will delay total recovery.

"I think for the entire island to come back to where it was before the storm may take years if not decades. Some places may not come back at all," he said.

Santiago believes the U.S. government has been sluggish in helping with repairs.

"As a United States citizen it hurts, it hurts to the core that we have to say that," he said.

Kim agrees more needs to be done but stands by FEMA's decision to stop distributing emergency food and water, letting Puerto Rico's government take over.

"The big emphasis needs to be on how to rebuild these communities," he said.

FEMA will use Kim's disaster assessments to plan responses for future emergencies. In two week his team returns to Puerto Rico.

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