U.S. RESPONSE TO PUERTO RICO IS STILL SHAMEFUL
It’s been just over three weeks since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria — on the heels of being hit a few weeks earlier by Hurricane Irma.
Only 16 percent of the island has power, which in itself is a life-threatening situation.
Clean water is so scarce that half the people have been drinking from creeks and wells at hazardous waste sites. At least four deaths have been reported from Leptospirosis, a disease spread through contaminated water but easily treatable with antibiotics.
Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have told reporters the government is providing millions of bottles of water and 200,000 meals a day. Oh, but whoops, there are 2 million people on this island the size of New Jersey. That’s a daily shortfall of 1.8 million meals.
“Hospitals are running low on medicine and high on patients,” the New York Times reported Tuesday, and many are running on unreliable power or lack a steady supply of diesel fuel for generators. A hospital in Humacao had to evacuate 29 patients last week — including seven in the intensive care unit and a few on the operating table — to an American military medical ship off the coast of Puerto Rico when a generator broke down.
Everything that’s been reported about deaths in Puerto Rico is at odds with the official count, according to Vox. The official count from the government is 45. Vox reporting indicates it may be closer to 450, as bodies lie in morgues awaiting autopsy.
Yet President Donald Trump continues to insist U.S. response has been great, and he blames problems on the people of Puerto Rico. On Thursday morning he threatened by tweet to withdraw federal support from the island.
“…We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Perhaps we wouldn’t need to if we had responded appropriately in the first place. But we didn’t.
Everything from Trump’s tone to his follow-through has been different with Puerto Rico compared to hurricane efforts in Houston and Florida earlier this season.
Be that as it may, in Texas, FEMA continues to operate 50 disaster recovery centers to help residents recover from Hurricane Harvey. In Florida, FEMA is running 18 centers after Hurricane Irma. In Puerto Rico — where weather officials likened Hurricane Maria’s direct hit to a 50- or 60-mile-wide tornado that sat down and slowly scoured the island — the U.S. response seems to be completely broken and our president is itching to be done with it. With too-few boots on the ground to distribute too-little help, Puerto Rico remains in crisis because recovery help is nowhere close.
World Central Kitchen, a disaster-relief nonprofit group founded by chef José Andrés, cooks and distributes 90,000 meals a day through a network of local chefs and kitchens (as opposed to the mostly military ready-to-eat meals that FEMA provides.)
Andrés told The Guardian that its FEMA contract, to provide just 20,000 meals a day, ended on Tuesday. He said FEMA insists it is bound by federal rules that mean it will take several weeks for a new contract to emerge to feed more Americans in Puerto Rico.
“There is no urgency in the government response to this humanitarian crisis,” Andrés said.
Trump threw the hot potato to Congress, which we all know couldn’t take quick action if its collective pants were on fire.
“Congress to decide how much to spend … ” Trump tweeted Thursday.
Trump blames the people of Puerto Rico — the people with no power, no food, no water, few cell phones and even less cellular coverage. Our president is blaming people who have roofless homes and drowned-out cars. People who are trying to camp and survive in a sprawling, ravaged countryside where less than 400 miles of the island’s 5,000 miles of road are open to traffic.
Many residents have opted to escape on foot, leaving their homes behind and making their way to what few commercial flights have resumed or to commercial cruise ships offering free emergency evacuation. These refugees say they will start over in Florida or other states.
After all, Hurricane Maria did more than destroy Puerto Rico’s electric grid and water supply. It also destroyed the Puerto Rican economy. Pharmaceutical factories, the island’s main source of jobs and income, are either closed or partially operating, according to Vox. Many small businesses were destroyed, and those that weren’t are struggling without reliable electricity or running water.
According to a recent poll for the Associated Press, just 32 percent of Americans approve of Trump’s performance after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico. And no wonder.
In Puerto Rico, 84 percent of the people living there — all U.S. citizens — are in the dark, hungry and thirsty.
We are better than this, and we expect our government to be better than this.
Fortunately Trump Chief of Staff John Kelly is still in the White House. Although he defended Trump’s tweets, he also said the country would “stand with those American citizens in Puerto Rico until the job is done.”