Chattanooga Times Free Press - - OPINION -

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.”

We’ll see.

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