United States

Puerto Rico on verge of humanitarian crisis after Hurricane Maria, Trump announces visit

The international airport is barely functioning, while the rest of the island is struggling with a lack of food, water and fuel. “These are great people and we have to help them,” Trump said, announcing his visit.
26 Sep 2017 – 1:26 PM EDT

Almost no aspect of Puerto Rican daily life has been able to return to normality after Hurricane Maria,a Category 4 storm, pounded the U.S. island a week ago: communications, electricity, internet, cash, food or water, are all lacking.

Hundreds of people wait at the airport for flights that keep getting cancelled while the government has imposed a dusk to dawn curfew and banned alcohol sales to try to limit crime.

Governor Ricardo Rosselló descrived the situation on Tuesday as "a catastrophe ... Puerto Rico is close to a humanitarian crisis." He said the devastating damage from Maria (in addition to Irma the previous week) was aggravated by an long-running economic crisis and massive debt that virtually bankrupted the island that is home to 3.4 million U.S. citizens.

President Donald Trump said Tuesday he’ll visit Puerto Rico next week (Tuesday) to survey damage. Trump announced the visit after the administration was criticized for the pace of its response to widespread damage on the U.S. territory.

Trump said Tuesday is the earliest he can visit without disrupting recovery and relief operations.

He pushed back against the notion that the administration wasn’t acting quickly enough to help, saying supplies could be delivered by truck to Texas and Florida after recent hurricanes in both states, but that Puerto Rico is unique because of its location.

“The difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean and it’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean,” Trump said Tuesday during a White House meeting with lawmakers about the tax plan he’s rolling out this week. “We’re doing a good job.”

Trump added that Puerto Rico is important to him. He noted that he grew up in New York City, which has a large Puerto Rican population, and that he has Puerto Rican friends. “These are great people and we have to help them,” he said.

Rosselló urged the U.S. Congress to send more resources to avoid the looming humanitarian crisis: "This is a real possibility, but I trust in the solidarity, the (U.S.) members of the Congress and an aid package that can help."

It remians unclear how willing Congress is to step in, with some Hispanic members expressing fears that Puerto Rico only enjoys Cinderella status in the United States.

"We need an airlift. We need an effort the scale of Dunkirk," said Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), speaking on the House floor on Tuesday. "We know the U.S. is capable. We can invade foreign countries with hundreds of thousands of troops, flawless communications, food and security. We need the same effort now."


Deceased, rescued, in shelters

The passage of Hurricane Maria left 16 dead according to the government's latest official figure. The Public Affairs Secretary of the Government of Puerto Rico, Ramon Rosario, told a press conference Monday that the number is expected to increase.

In addition, Rosselló reported that authorities have rescued 5,500 across the island.

Housing Department Secretary Fernando Gil Enseñat told local WAPA radio station that there were about 10,000 people in the public shelters before the hurricane, but now that figure has risen to 15,000.

Communications

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reported that 92.5 percent of Puerto Rico is without communications. Some hotels in San Juan have WhatsApp voice and text service, but outside the capital communication is virtually impossible.

This is how the electrical supply across the island looks at night, as observed before and after the hurricane.


Airport

Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan is without air conditioning or power for the airline computer systems. The Puerto Rican daily El Nuevo Día reported that there are at least 800 stranded tourists. Many flights were cancelled and passengers told nothing was available until Friday.

Reporter David Begnaud of CBS toured the airport and spoke with people who said they had slept for three days on the floor waiitng for word of flights out. Would-be passengers fanned themselves as parents stripped small children of clothing due to the excessive heat.

"It's a sauna here ... There are no airline personnel on the counters ... there are thousands of people in here without food and water. There are people who need dialysis, medicines ... there are children here. This is inhuman," Begnaud reported from the terminal.

Money

ATM cash machines are not working due to lack of electricity in most locations on the island. As a result, many people were running out of money and queuing for up to three hours at the bank branches that are open to get cash.


Security

A curfew and a ban on alcohol have been extended indefinitely in order to reduce the risk of crime and looting. "Between 7 pm and 5 am everyone must be inside their homes," the government announced.

Some looting has been reported in shops and gas stations. About one hundred police officers were ordered to escort gasoline trucks in different areas of the island.

Food and water

The government has stressed the number one priority right now is assuring the distribution of food and water which is being made difficult to roads that were sept away or blocked by trees and fallen power lines.

The island's government has sought help from cruise companies to bring food and water to the island, and to transport people.

Those supermarkets that are open have long queues and are running out of supplies.

The government lifted a sales tax on food until Oct 8.

The government has asked schools to report if they have safe drinking water as a possible oasis for each community. Elí Díaz, president of the Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (AAA), said that about 40 per cent of subscribers have drinking water, representing about 500,000 users.

Gasoline

The government says the problem is not the lack of fuel, but distribution problems due to damaged roads and loss or electricity to power the pumps.

The secretary of Consumer Affairs (DACO), Michael Pierluisi said on Monday that the fuel situation was improving.

Shell already has 108 out of its 172 stations receiving fuel. The company said it is operating all over the island except for the mountainous central region.

Ecomaxx has 60 out of its 90 stations in service, mostly covering the south and central area.

Total has 102 of its 205 stations operating, mostly in the capital and in the east.

Puma 110 of its 340 stations are open, serving the southeast region.

Gulf has 70 stations of its 180 stations in working order, serving the entire Island.

Pierluisi Rojo asked the public to collaborate by not bloxking access to gas stations so they can be refuled. "I reiterate the call for calm; do not go looking for gas if it is not necessary. Allow emergency personnel and people in need to access gasoline on a priority basis," he said.

Public services (buses, roads, garbage collection, hospitals)

Transportation: The Department of Transportation and Public Works (DTOP) reported Monday on social media that public transit services resumed on Monday (Sept 25).

Some roads remain blocked, according to a government statement:

PR-60 kmr 1.6 from Fajardo to Caguas: closed in both directions

PR-52 km 27.9: closed in the direction of San Juan to Ponce (a detour is being made)

PR-3 from Fajardo to Rio Grande, km 30.7 to 31.1 and 38.8 to 44.7

PR-26 (Baldorioty Express) km 4.1 partially flooded

PR-2 km 200 there is flooding; km 22.6 in Toa Baja and km 140 in direction of Mayagüez to Arecibo

PR-111 km 54.4 in Utuado: impassable due to collapse. (Detours: PR-603 and PR-6103)

PR-59 km 1 in Juana Díaz: impassable

PR-108 km 12.6 in Mayagüez: landslide (Detour: PR-406 and PR-4430)

PR-165 problems at the Punta Salina bridge

Problems at Virgencita bridge, in Toa Alta

Hospitals:

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Waste: EC Waste reported Monday that it resumed operations in parts of the island.


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