Talk­ing points

Puerto Rico: An on­go­ing dis­as­ter

The Week (US) - - 16 News -

“It’s been three months since Hur­ri­cane Maria changed ev­ery­thing in Puerto Rico,” said Vann Newkirk in The At­ Yet “no­body knows what the end of the is­land’s elec­tric­ity and hu­man­i­tar­ian crises will look like, or when it will come.” In­cred­i­bly, about 50 per­cent of power cus­tomers are still with­out elec­tric­ity. Full power to the is­land of 3.5 mil­lion peo­ple won’t be re­stored un­til late May, fed­eral of­fi­cials now ad­mit. “Puerto Rico is drown­ing in millions of cu­bic yards of trash,” its hospitals and health-care sys­tem are barely func­tion­ing, and the of­fi­cial death toll, cur­rently 64, may ac­tu­ally be more than 1,000, ac­cord­ing to on-the-ground re­port­ing by the Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism. “Pres­i­dent Trump awarded him­self a 10 out of 10 score two months ago for his re­sponse to Hur­ri­cane Maria,” said Dana Milbank in The Wash­ing­ton Post. “When all is tal­lied,” though, the scale of the hu­man tragedy “will be very much on par with what Trump con­sid­ers ‘a real catas­tro­phe like Katrina,’ which killed about 1,800.”

Imag­ine liv­ing for months with­out elec­tric­ity, said Mat­tathias Schwartz in New York magazine. It means no heat­ing, air-con­di­tion­ing, or re­frig­er­a­tion; no traf­fic sig­nals; no TV or in­ter­net; and en­tire com­mu­ni­ties who have to rely on word of mouth for in­for­ma­tion. Peo­ple take cold show­ers to es­cape the trop­i­cal heat and humidity. Clean drink­ing wa­ter re­mains scarce. Amid grow­ing des­per­a­tion and de­spair, the sui­cide rate has dou­bled.

In fair­ness to Trump, this cri­sis was years in the mak­ing, said The San Diego Union-Tri­bune in an editorial. Puerto Rico’s power in­fra­struc­ture was al­ready “in de­crepit shape,” while the ter­ri­tory’s moun­tain­ous ter­rain has ham­pered re­cov­ery ef­forts. Still, there are ob­vi­ous dis­par­i­ties between the mas­sive scale of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment’s ef­forts in Texas and Florida fol­low­ing hur­ri­canes Har­vey and Irma, and its slug­gish, largely in­ef­fec­tive re­sponse in Puerto Rico. Some at­tribute the lack of ur­gency to “a na­tivist pres­i­dent’s dis­dain for the Span­ish­s­peak­ing Lati­nos”—some of whom dared to crit­i­cize him. In the end, “Trump’s ca­sual treat­ment of their strug­gle may come back to haunt Repub­li­cans,” said Alexia Fernán­dez Camp­bell in Vox .com. Hundreds of thou­sands of Puerto Ri­cans have al­ready fled for Florida. Ig­nored un­til now, “they will likely voice their frus­tra­tions in the vot­ing booth in the com­ing midterm elections.”

Bedrid­den and with­out power in Puerto Rico

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