Aid still not get­ting to many in Puerto Rico

Blocked roads, lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tions ham­per de­liv­er­ies

The Commercial Appeal - - Front Page -

USA TO­DAY SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO The Aux­ilio Mu­tuo Hospi­tal here can’t fig­ure out how to get spe­cial­ized med­i­cal sup­plies from the nearby air­port. A Puerto Ri­can in Tampa found the quick­est way to de­liver help to her home­town was to do it in per­son. And ship­ping con­tain­ers filled with emer­gency goods are pil­ing up at the Port of San Juan.

Nearly three weeks after Hur­ri­cane Maria dev­as­tated this U.S. ter­ri­tory in the Caribbean, in­di­vid­u­als and char­i­ties on the U.S. main­land try­ing to send sup­plies are fac­ing bot­tle­necks that are keep­ing help from reach­ing those most in need.

The bar­ri­ers in­clude a lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion and blocked roads.

One Port of San Juan ter­mi­nal is stor­ing 3,400 con­tain­ers — more than dou­ble the usual num­ber, said Jose “Pache” Ayala, vice pres­i­dent and general man­ager for Puerto Rico at Crowley Mar­itime Corp.

Be­cause of tan­gled power lines across roads, washed-out bridges and high­ways and knocked out cell­phone tow­ers and ra­dio an­ten­nas across the is­land, ma­te­ri­als are leav­ing the Crowley ter­mi­nal gate at 70 per­cent of the nor­mal rate be­fore the storm, Ayala said.

“It’s eas­ier to help in­ter­na­tion­ally than it is in Puerto Rico,” said Neil Frame, of Op­er­a­tion USA in Los Angeles. The non­profit, which ships do­nated med­i­cal sup­plies into disas­ter ar­eas around the world, has not yet found a way to de­liver goods to the U.S. ter­ri­tory.

His group is ship­ping sup­plies to Mex­ico after the earth­quake and also help­ing in Texas after Hur­ri­cane Har­vey, but there it was easy — work­ers just drove down and found peo­ple who could help dis­trib­ute.

Be­cause of lin­ger­ing poor com­mu­ni­ca­tions since Maria struck here Sept. 20, his group has been able to con­nect with only eight of about 60 hos­pi­tals on the is­land. “You know that the ones that re­ally need it are the ones we haven’t been able to talk to,” he said.

Spotty com­mu­ni­ca­tions are a ma­jor im­ped­i­ment.

“There are some pack­ages sent by fam­ily to some­one in Puerto Rico that be­cause com­mu­ni­ca­tions are so bad the per­son here doesn’t know (it’s com­ing),” Ayala said.

Trucker Ricardo Car­bonell, 42, said his com­pany won’t de­liver if dis­patch­ers can’t reach the re­cip­i­ent in ad­vance. “If there’s no com­mu­ni­ca­tions, they call and call, no­body an­swers the phone, and we don’t bring them any­thing,” he said.

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