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Puerto Rico Disaster Chief Resigns – Throwing Island Recovery Into Further Turmoil

Juan Luis Martinez
Puerto Rico emergency management director Abner Gomez (right) at a recent hurricane recovery press conference in San Juan with Governor Ricardo Rossello.

Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the U.S. territory is still struggling to restore power, water and other basic needs. Things only got more muddled on Friday with the sudden resignation of the island’s emergency management director.

Puerto Rican media recently revealed that Abner Gómez had taken a two-week vacation last month. That angered many people because Gómez heads the island’s Emergency and Disaster Management Agency, known as AEMEAD – and Puerto Rico was demolished by Hurricane Maria less than two months ago.

Now Gómez has resigned – throwing Puerto Rico’s slow and often dysfunctional hurricane recovery effort into further turmoil. Public Security Secretary Hector Pesquera will take over for Gómez.

Critics say coordination between Puerto Rican disaster officials and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, has been largely disjointed. After a major outage this week, about 80 percent of the island’s 3.4 million people are still without electricity. About 25 percent still have no running water.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló has asked his cabinet to submit unsigned letters of resignation and focus all their efforts on hurricane recovery. But last week he had to cancel a controversial power grid reconstruction contract. As a result, his pledge to restore power across Puerto Rico by Christmas looks unlikely.