The American territory of Puerto Rico remains mired in the destruction wrought by Hurricane Maria, a category four storm that flooded much of the island and left millions of residents without electricity, gas, or clean water. “We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” governor Ricardo Rosselló told The Washington Post Sunday, calling on both the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Pentagon to step up their aid efforts across the island.
Speaking with the Post, Rosselló confirmed that local law enforcement and emergency workers have been strained beyond their capacity. Rosselló called on Congress to pass new legislation earmarking additional disaster relief funds for Puerto Rico. At least ten people were killed during the storm and its aftermath.
“This is a major disaster, not unlike Katrina or Sandy. There is going to be a hefty toll for us to make sure that we can reestablish normalcy and build Puerto Rico back stronger," the Governor said. With the island's power grid's destroyed, residents are now facing the prospect of cooking over open flames and living off of rationed gasoline for the next six months. On Capitol Hill, early reports are circulating that the White House will request additional congressional funding for disaster relief by early October.
Messages from Puerto Ricans sent since Wednesday's direct hit by Maria describe the destruction in apocalyptic terms. "Internal phone communications are extremely limited if existent at all. Food and gasoline for cars and generators are only days away from vanishing...In the next 48-72 hours desperation is going to start to set in," a friend told journalist Julio Ricardo Varela.
From a friend in Puerto Rico: "We prepared for the worse, now we need to prepare for what we couldn't even conceive could be the worst."
— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) September 25, 2017
— NOAA Satellites (@NOAASatellites) September 25, 2017
Looting has been reported in San Juan and elsewhere. San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told the Post, "There is horror in the streets. People are actually becoming prisoners in their own homes. I know we’re not going to get to everybody in time...Two days ago, I said I was concerned about that. Now I know we won’t get to everybody in time."
80 percent of Puerto Rico's agricultural crop value was destroyed by the hurricane, Puerto Rican Agriculture Secretary Carlos Flores Ortega told the New York Times. Fields of coffee, plantains, and bananas were flattened by the storm and many roads used by farmers to access both crops and animals were swept away by landslides in the wake of Maria. An estimated total of $780 million in farm yields was lost to Maria, on top of $45 million lost to Hurricane Irma earlier this month, the Agriculture Department said. The U.S. territory had already been suffering from a serious recession, carrying a debt load of $74 billion, and the shock of environmental destruction is already attracting predatory corporations looking to privatize its state-run electric utility.
Aerial photos published by National Geographic show a nation of ravaged fields and crumbling structures.
Governor Andrew Cuomo visited Puerto Rico on Friday with a contingent of National Guard members and aid workers from his office that brought 34,000 bottles of water, 9,600 ready-to-eat meals, 3,000 canned goods, 500 flashlights, 1,400 cots, 1,400 blankets, 1,400 pillows and 10 10kW generators. "The one thing that's clear is these people need a lot of help. And we have to remember that they're American citizens. It's Puerto Rico, they're American citizens. U.S. Virgin Islands, they're American citizens," Cuomo said Friday. The NYPD and FDNY have promised to send dozens of first responders and members of the Office of Emergency Management to the island's capital of San Juan to assist with rebuilding efforts.
Speaking at the Javits Center Sunday night, Cuomo announced a state partnership with Puerto Rico that would send continuing aid to the battered island population. Approximately 700,000 Puerto Ricans currently live in New York City. During his speech, Cuomo seized an opportunity to criticize President Trump, who spent most Sunday mired in an twitter-abetted feud with professional athletes over protests against police brutality.
— Andrew Cuomo (@NYGovCuomo) September 24, 2017
For a list of national and local organizations accepting donations to help Puerto Rico, click here.