SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — The U.S. government announced Tuesday that it will award $18.5 billion worth of disaster recovery grants to Puerto Rico to help repair homes, businesses and its crumbling power grid as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria.
It is the largest single amount for such assistance ever awarded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Deputy Secretary Pamela Patenaude during a visit to the U.S. territory.
"Our goal is to get people back into their homes, get people back to work and to build a stronger Puerto Rico for future generations," she said.
The money will be issued through the agency's Community Development Block Grant program.
Patenaude said that Puerto Rico planning officials will develop a disaster recovery plan in upcoming weeks.
The announcement comes as 54,000 power customers remain in the dark more than six months after the Category 4 storm hit. Officials have said they expect power to be fully restored across the island by May, just days before the Atlantic hurricane season starts.
HUD already had allocated $1.5 billion to Puerto Rico in February for post-hurricane recovery efforts.
Maria hit on Sept. 20 and caused more than an estimated $100 billion in damage. It destroyed around 70,000 homes and damaged another 300,000.
HUD also said it plans to award the neighboring U.S. Virgin Islands $1.6 billion in disaster recovery funds to help it recuperate from hurricanes Irma and Maria.
Both storms left the U.S. Virgin Islands reeling. Hurricane Irma passed near St. John and St. Thomas on Sept. 6 as a Category 5 system, killing three people and causing widespread and significant destruction to homes and businesses. Maria passed to the south of St. Croix two weeks later, resulting in major flooding and wind damage to homes there.