Weekly Democratic Address
September 21, 2018
Hello. I am Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez and I represent New York’s 7th Congressional District.
As our fellow Americans in the Carolinas face the devastation of Hurricane Florence, we are reminded that this week marks one year since Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, and when Irma and Maria devastated the Virgin Islands.
In Puerto Rico, Maria came ashore in my hometown, Yabucoa, as a Category 4 storm. Sustained winds, exceeding 150 miles per hour, ravaged bridges, roads and destroyed more than 87,000 homes – with another 385,000 being seriously damaged. Physical damages are expected to exceed $90 billion.
The entire territory – all 3.4 million American citizens – lost power. Thousands of businesses and hundreds of thousands of residents would not regain electricity for nine months – marking the longest blackout in American history.
It will probably remain forever unknown the exact number of Puerto Ricans who lost their lives from Maria. Earlier this month, the Government of Puerto Rico finally acknowledged that Maria killed nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans – after months of insisting that the official death count was 64.
Sadly, many of these lives could have been saved if the Trump Administration had fully marshalled the resources of the federal government, but sadly, that never happened.
In fact, just last week, Donald Trump shamefully tweeted comments calling into question the death toll in Puerto Rico and belittling the suffering that occurred there.
That is unacceptable. When disaster strikes, the President has a solemn responsibility to be the President for all Americans – whether they live in Texas, Florida, or the territories like Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Puerto Ricans are American citizens. They serve in our military. They shed blood in our wars. They have died for our freedom. And, yet, in Puerto Rico’s darkest hour, this Administration failed them.
That is wrong and the Administration must be held accountable. So far, Congressional Republicans have failed to live up to their constitutional responsibility of exercising oversight regarding the failures of the disaster response. Instead, they are bending over backwards to protect the White House.
We need answers. That is why I have authored legislation creating a 9/11 style Commission to investigate the response to Maria. I have also introduced “The COUNT Act”, which will establish federal procedures for death tolls after disasters strike.
A year after Maria, the American people deserve to know what happened to their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. And, as the hard road of recovery begins for the communities devastated by Hurricane Florence, we can only pray this Administration has learned from their mistakes. We can never let what happened after Maria happen again.
Thank you for watching. To all those in Florence’s path – be safe. Please know we are praying for you and committed to helping you recover. God bless you.