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UConn research team looks at lessons learned two years after Hurricane Maria

inadequacies in response by connecticut agencies contributed to crisis

Charles Venator-Santiago
Associate Professor, Political Science

Professor Charles Venator-Santiago is studying how officials in Holyoke, Mass. dealt with the island’s evacuees, according to a report by WNPR.

Along with his team at the UConn Institute for Latina/o Caribbean, and Latin American Studies, Venator-Santiago is looking at how this research could serve as a lesson for Connecticut cities.

Among the areas, he studies were how the city of Holyoke welcomed the Puerto Rican evacuees following the hurricane. A key component was providing a centralized location for evacuees to go to for help, according to the report.

“A center called Enlace de Familias received some funding from the state and some funding from other agencies to essentially create a receiving center that coordinated everything,” Venator-Santiago told WNPR. “There were representatives from federal agencies like social security, there were representatives from FEMA, there were food banks — it was one-stop shopping, if you will.”

In other cities, evacuees were unable to work with officials from local, state and federal agencies in one centralized location to get key resources at the same place where other basic needs were being fulfilled, he said.

“One of the key findings that we found in Hartford and we found everywhere is that the bulk of the people who assumed responsibility for displaced Puerto Ricans were people living in poverty or living with low-income,” Venator-Santiago told WNPR. “So, we’re hoping then that we can share our information to — I don’t know— address that problem, which is that the state should bear a different kind of responsibility.”

The goal of the study — commissioned by the Massachusetts Vulnerability Preparedness program — is to develop a plan for other municipalities in Massachusetts the next time there is a climate change event similar to Hurricane Maria which led to the displacement of thousands, according to the WNNP report.

Other issues Venator-Santiago and his team found related to the treatment of evacuees was the refusal of the Donald Trump administration to allow interagency agreements between certain departments in the federal government. This practice, Venator-Santiago told WNPR, was in place during Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy in 2005 and 2012. The lack of that interagency agreement, Venator-Santiago said, led to evacuees staying in hotels like the Red Roof Inn in Hartford for extended periods.

“FEMA brought people to the United States — 19,000 of them precisely — but didn’t have an interagency agreement with HUD to house them. So, FEMA brought 19,000 people, dumped them in hotels, and just left them there. People had to fend for themselves — people with nothing and no resources,” Venator-Santiago told WNPR.

Eventually, he will brief officials in Connecticut on his findings.


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