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Vox Sentences: Nearly 17 months since Maria

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Hurricane Maria relief efforts are slow and costly; a burst dam in Brazil has major human and environmental impacts.

Puerto Rico’s huge rebuilding effort

Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post/Getty Images
  • A $20 billion rebuilding effort is about to get underway in Puerto Rico: Grants from the Department of Housing and Urban Development are arriving to help the island repair the catastrophic damage it suffered from Hurricane Maria in fall 2017. [NPR / Adrian Florido]
  • President Trump reportedly tried to stop the initial $20 billion of federal aid for the US territory that Congress approved last year. [Washington Post / Tracy Jan, Arelis R. Hernández, Josh Dawsey, and Damian Paletta]
  • Why would Trump want to withhold relief money illegally? He claimed Puerto Rico would misuse the money and exploit the federal aid, creating a dependency issue. [Vox / Matthew Yglesias]
  • Locals fear that if the money is ever misused, Trump will use that as an excuse to cut off any future grants. In response, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has asked HUD to hold his government accountable. [NPR / Adrian Florido]
  • Redevelopment so far with existing funds has been slow and low-quality. For example, many Puerto Ricans living in barrios lack land titles, complicating the process of getting home construction loans. Residents living in old homes in flood-prone areas also won’t be given construction aid unless their residences comply with strict flooding standards. [Independent / Michael Kimmelman]
  • A proposal to privatize Puerto Rico’s energy was not supported in the island’s House or Senate today. Some local legislators asked for this bill to appropriate a transition to solar power and consolidate investments — but opposition voices fear the island could run out of funds before the bill is seen through. [AP / Dánica Coto]
  • The new majority Democratic US House has expressed an initiative to investigate the Trump administration’s failed response in Puerto Rico, home to 3.4 million US citizens. [NBC News / Nicole Acevedo]
  • Inclusion of support for Puerto Rico may be considered during discussion about a border wall funding bill in the next three weeks. Trump recently rejected an idea from the House Appropriations Committee to add $1.3 billion in relief money to the bill. [Politico / David Rogers]

A dam bursts in Brazil

  • Residents of Brumadinho, Brazil, evacuated their homes Sunday when a dam threatened to break, just two days after another dam in the same town burst, killing 58 people and leaving 300 missing. [NYT / Manuela Andreoni and Shasta Darlington]
  • The broken dam once held back billions of gallons of mud produced by the Vale mining company, the world’s largest oil producer. The dam met official safety standards prior to the incident. [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • This has happened before. In 2015, a dam partly owned by Vale burst and killed 19 people in what was the country’s worst environmental accident until now. [NYT / Manuela Andreoni and Shasta Darlington]
  • Though there are eight sirens around the mine that failed, there were no warnings before Friday’s incident. A statement from the company claimed “the speed in which the event happened made sounding an alarm impossible.” [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • Contaminated mud released from the dam has filled the Paraopeba River, which is known for having an abundance of fish. Vale now faces at least $66 million in environmental costs. [NPR / Bill Chappell]
  • Federal judges have also frozen billions of dollars of the company’s assets, and its leaders must pay a $26 million penalty to the government. [WSJ / Samantha Pearson]
  • Most of the victims were Vale employees. The families of the dead are seeking compensation from the company, whose executives could face criminal charges, according to Brazil’s prosecutor general. [Financial Times / Andres Schipani]


  • Today is the first day of the tax-filing season under the 2017 tax law. What to expect: Many Americans will get tax cuts, but not everyone will get the refunds they’re used to. [WSJ / Richard Rubin]
  • At least 20 people were killed in a bombing at a Roman Catholic church yesterday on Jolo island, Sulu province, in the Philippines. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility, and President Rodrigo Duterte has expressed will to “crush” these forces. [Al Jazeera]
  • Some men fear mentoring women in the #MeToo era, so companies are minimizing risk by decreasing one-on-one time between male managers and female employees. [NYT / Katrin Bennhold]
  • The “next Obama” may not exist, but candidates are already trying to evoke the former president on the campaign trail. [Politico Magazine / Bill Scher]
  • President Trump claims more than 25 million illegal immigrants are in the US — but the source of this number, or the real figure, isn’t known. [Atlantic / Andrew Kragie]


“People growing up today must know what people were capable of in the past, and we must work proactively to ensure that it is never repeated.” [German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a weekly video address spoke about Holocaust remembrance, via NPR]

Watch this: Why Puerto Rico isn’t a US state

Nearly half of Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens. But they are, and have been since 1917. [YouTube / Christina Thornell]

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Correction 1/31: A previous version of this article misstated the year of the Mariana dam accident in Brazil. Also, Brazil’s Brumadinho dam was actually deemed “stable” by inspectors prior to the incident. We regret the error.