The whole island is suffering and in need of help
by Christian Decker
September has been a terrible month for disaster weather. We had Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida. Now Hurricane Maria has absolutely devastated the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. After the hurricane crossed the territory, all the power was knocked out. Resources are dwindling as the Puerto Rican people await the much-needed aid from the U.S.
According to Vox, food supplies are dangerously low, there is little access to clean water, and the country is running out of fuel. Cell towers were destroyed in the wake of the hurricane, limiting communications, so we don’t know too much about the progress of rebuilding except what we hear from the reporters who have been able to get down there. According to Elaine Duke, Secretary of Homeland Security, Puerto Rico’s electrical grid is virtually gone. Reports say that it could take up to six months for the power to get back online. The situation is dire and some are criticizing the White House and Congress for not acting fast enough. According to CNN, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló has urged the government to recognize that Puerto Ricans are in fact Americans as well.
President Trump has in fact pledged aid to help Puerto Rico recover. In fact, according to CNN, the President is set to go down to the territory, although no official date has been set because of infrastructure concerns. The President hasn’t really created the image of coming very quickly to the aid of Puerto Rico. He is quoted as saying that Puerto Rico “is in the middle of the ocean, and it’s a very big ocean.” (Just… sigh) Recently on Twitter, Hillary Clinton (she’s back!) urged President Trump and Secretary Mattis to send “a Navy Medical ship” to help with the relief effort this Sunday. Others have criticized the President for being too focused on the recent national anthem protests, and not enough on the disaster. However, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders argues that the response “has been anything but slow”. According to FEMA, over ten thousand of their employees are in Puerto Rico helping with the relief efforts.
Another potential issue facing the territory is the potential collapse of the Guajataca Dam. During the storm it was severely damaged and is now leaking, according to sources. There were about 70,000 residents in the area, but it has since been evacuated. Workers have been trying to seal up the dam to prevent any further destruction.
Communication also remains a big issue. The lack of working cell towers has made it hard to coordinate rescue missions and relief efforts. Most people must rely on satellite powered phones and other devices that require satellites to get the word out at all according to USA. Hospitals are on life support (sorry), down to days’ worth of supplies, most without any running water. They must be powered by backup generators, according to CNN.
People are calling this the worst storm to ever hit Puerto Rico. It has caused the rain and water damage of Harvey and the extremely powerful and deadly winds of Irma. As of now, around sixteen people have been confirmed dead because of the hurricane.
Hope remains however. It appears FEMA has been working overtime to try to help people. The private sector has even been sending supplies to help. Mattresses, food, water, and generators are some of the indispensable items that are just now being delivered to try to relieve some of the burden of the Puerto Rican people, according to the New York Times. Stunningly, the citizens are remaining resilient in the face of so much destruction and chaos. 3.4 million people are caught up in this crisis.
The lack of knowledge about Puerto Rico in the U.S. unfortunately is very sad. According to Vox, only fifty-four percent of people know that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory or even part of the U.S. at all. They also don’t know that Puerto Ricans are citizens of the U.S. However, of those that do know, eighty-one percent think that they should be sent aid immediately. Many have made the argument that because Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens they should be getting aid immediately. Others argue that it shouldn’t matter if they are or not, and that it is our responsibility to help them regardless.
Although farming contributes little to the Puerto Rican economy, the industry was almost utterly annihilated by the storm. Maria wiped out around eighty percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico, according to Vox. It amounts to about a $780 million loss, which is not catastrophic but still significant. And although Puerto Rico imports most of its food, it is estimated that the loss of crops will drive up prices and thus make the food shortage situation even worse.
Another problem is that the country can’t predict subsequent storms. Their weather radar is down.
Luckily it is now possible to get out of the country. The main airport just reopened temporarily during the day, though unable to resume full 24 hour service. The problem is that the airport conditions are not ideal without electricity. There is no air conditioning. Hundreds of flights can get cancelled and only a certain amount of them run per day. Coupled with the fuel shortage this makes for a very dangerous cocktail. People even have checked into flights by telephone according to Vox.
Unfortunately, the Puerto Rican economy was in shambles even before this tragedy. The territory declared bankruptcy and has had to recover from over $70 billion dollars in debt. This makes it even harder to fix the damage. Sadly, a lot of this economic turmoil is the U.S. government’s fault. We charge them almost double in tariffs for U.S. based goods.
With so much at stake here, let’s hope our government can get its act together to help in this time of need.