WASHINGTON — The Federal Emergency Management Agency will help transport hurricane survivors from Puerto Rico to the continental United States, with priority given to approximately 3,000 people who are living in shelters, the agency said.
Hurricane survivors who want to temporarily relocate to the mainland, could end up in Florida or New York, as FEMA is working to establish agreements with both states. The two states were selected by Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello, according to FEMA.
Both Florida and New York have sizable Puerto Rican communities. Florida has already seen tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans coming to its state after Hurricane Maria struck the island that is still struggling to regain power more than a month after the storm.
About 60% of the U.S. territory, which is home to approximately 3.4 million U.S. citizens, is still without power.
An operation to transport people out or an “air bridge” would be the first for FEMA, Mike Bryne, a FEMA federal coordinating officer told CBS.
“We have never done an air bridge before for this program. We have to take the time to set it up,” he told CBS, which was first to report the story.
The program he referred to is FEMA’s Transitional Shelter Assistance, which helps displaced residents find interim housing while they’re working to repair their homes. Lacking hotel rooms in Puerto Rico, the agency is asking hurricane survivors whether they wish to stay on the island or relocate temporarily to the mainland.
FEMA would pay for the flights to and from the mainland, CBS reported.
“So far, we’ve seen a very low level of interest to take advantage of that program,” Byrne told CBS. “Right now, just hundreds of people really — maybe even as low as dozens. We’re not seeing a great degree of interest.”
He noted that FEMA staff had interviewed about 300 families earlier this week, and only about 30 expressed interest.