• Some Puerto Ricans are worried Hurricane Fiona recovery aid won’t be distributed fairly to communities across the island.
  • “We had Hurricane Maria five years ago, and we saw how structural racism and inequities put our most vulnerable communities in danger,” said one resident. “But now we’re seeing it all happen again.”
  • Recent policy changes reflect lessons learned from Hurricane Maria. Compared to that storm, more than 100,000 more survivors have received aid so far after Fiona, a FEMA spokesperson said.

Weeks after Hurricane Fiona hit Puerto Rico, floodwaters have mostly receded in the hard-hit town of Loíza, but mud, debris and collapsed roofs remain. Power has been restored in some areas but is still unstable.

“Families have lost everything,” said Gloriann Sacha Antonetty Lebrón, founder of Revista Étnica, Puerto Rico’s first magazine for Black women and a leader of a mutual aid operation providing support to Loíza.

Yet when President Joe Biden initially approved an emergency declaration after the hurricane, Loíza and many other hard-hit communities were not included, experts told USA TODAY. The exclusion prompted concerns that the recovery effort will once again leave behind some of Puerto Rico’s poorest areas five years after those same communities struggled to receive federal and local disaster aid when Hurricane Maria pummeled the U.S. territory.

The Hurricane Fiona emergency declaration originally included 55 municipalities, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. In the days after the disaster, communities were added to the declaration until the most recent version included all 78 municipalities, including Loíza.

The initial disaster declaration was “based on the available data and assessments at the time,” Jeremy Edwards, the agency’s press secretary, said in a statement to USA TODAY. “The intent was to get resources to survivors as quickly as possible. As the assessments continued and were completed, additional municipalities were added.”

But among many communities initially excluded, there is still a feeling of being left behind that builds on the trauma of Hurricane Maria, experts said.

“We had Hurricane Maria five years ago, and we saw how structural racism and inequities put our most vulnerable communities in danger,” Lebrón said. “But now we’re seeing it all happen again.”

GRAPHICS:See the scope of Hurricane Fiona’s damage in Puerto Rico in charts and graphics

What happened after Hurricane Maria?

For many Puerto Ricans, Hurricane Fiona was a grim reminder of the disaster that struck five years before when Hurricane Maria, the deadliest natural disaster on the island in 100 years, left about 3,000 people dead and shattered the country’s electrical system.

While parts of the San Juan metropolitan area had power within days of the hurricane, many communities, often more rural and poorer municipalities, waited more than 300 days for power restoration crews to be sent to their communities, said Fernando Tormos-Aponte, assistant professor of sociology at the University of Pittsburgh.