Emergency manager resigns in Puerto Rico; Army ends its mission

SAN JUAN — The head of Puerto Rico’s emergency management agency resigned Friday, the same day the Army general in charge of the military’s response to the hurricane announced that his mission on the island had ended.

The moves came as Puerto Rico tries to shift from the emergency phase of its hurricane response, and just a day after a widespread power failure underscored the enormous challenges that remain. More than 2,000 people are still in shelters, and the power grid is operating at 41 percent capacity, 52 days after the storm.

Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan arrived in Puerto Rico about a week after Hurricane Maria pummeled the island, in the midst of fierce criticism of the federal response. He quickly acknowledged that not enough federal troops were on the island and vowed to do more to help Puerto Rico.


On Friday, Lieutenant General Jeffrey Buchanan said the military’s missions, primarily clearing roads, attending to medical emergencies, and helping restore communications, were complete. Other agencies, like the National Guard and Federal Emergency Management Agency, would continue the work.

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Shortly after, the government announced that Abner Gómez, commissioner of the Puerto Rico Emergency Management Agency, had resigned.

It was unclear whether Gómez’s resignation was an indication that the government had recognized a failure in its response to Hurricane Maria, or that he had simply lost influence at the agency. Gómez’s profile had diminished this year when the governor created a Cabinet position over him. He had not been a visible figure since the storm and rarely appeared at news conferences.

In his resignation letter, Gómez acknowledged that the recovery had largely been assigned to someone else, so he was stepping down to let his new supervisor, the secretary of public safety, name his own team.

Gómez did not respond to requests for comment.


On Thursday, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló asked his Cabinet to sign undated letters of resignation. Rosselló has vowed to eliminate 100 agencies and many members of the Cabinet are going to find themselves without jobs, he said.

“We had an emergency phase where practically all of us were sustaining lives,” he said. “We are now entering a recovery phase,” and for that, he said, he needs a more nimble government.