Aid still not getting to many in Puerto Rico
Blocked roads, lack of communications hamper deliveries
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.