Puerto Rico is a Disaster, Moving Toward Catastrophe, That Demands a Massive, Emergency Response

by Mark Sumner –

Donald Trump has not mentioned Puerto Rico since the day after Hurricane Maria brutally scourged the US territory. After making a trip to Alabama to call any athlete who takes part in peaceful protest a “son of a bitch” who should be fired, Trump doubled, tripled … pentadekaled down on that point by tweeting 15 times about his NFL hate. He’s also slipped in half a dozen mentions of the health care bill and even managed to talk about how nice the White House looks.

But three and a half million Americans, many of whom are without shelter, struggling to find clean water and food, who are living about without power, lacking communications with relatives, and still searching for loved ones they haven’t seen since before the storm—that doesn’t merit a word. Trump isn’t alone in his disdain and neglect. The grand total of time all five Sunday morning talk shows devoted to Puerto Rico as they gathered the great and the good to cover the issues of the day was less than one minute.

At least one person does seem to be paying attention.

President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens. https://twitter.com/samynemir/status/911401368983924736 

Unfortunately, that person can’t order that ship into position—or order any of the thousands of steps that should have been taken to assist even before the storm struck.

Matria was a disaster. The aftermath of the storm is a crisis that’s rolling toward catastrophe as Donald Trump demonstrates a callous disregard for human life and a disdain for Americans outside the reach of his wall.

Six days after Maria cut a diagonal swath across Puerto Rico bringing destruction to every part of the island, television is notably not showing people being rescued from rooftops and crews working diligently to clear away debris and restore some semblance of normal order. And Trump is notably not on the ground pretending to help. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are not being given even a fraction of the attention that was given to Texas and Florida in the wake of storm damage there.

Trump was on the ground in Texas, pretending to ride a fire truck, just four days after Hurricane Harvey reached the coast. He was in Florida four days after Irma hit to hand out hoagies. But six days after Puerto Rico was devastated, Trump has not donned the presidential windbreaker. Maybe he’s working up a new hat to sell on the web site.

Puerto RIco’s position means that addressing concerns there takes both more deliberate forethought and more forceful action following a disaster. The electrical grid may have failed over large portions of Florida following Hurricane Irma, but even before the storm passed, electrical crews were on their way from more than a dozen of other states. Homes in the Houston area were still window-deep in water when buses full of volunteers from the Midwest began to arrive.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are … islands. Planning for disasters means putting the infrastructure and supplies in place in advance of the storm, or launching a major naval deployment on the heels of a disaster to ensure that water, food, shelter, power, and simply dignity and order can be maintained. The US government under Trump has made no such effort.

In Puerto Rico, there are still whole towns that have not been heard from following the storm. Mayors of communities across the island are just beginning to struggle across flooded, debris-strewn roads to explain what the people in their communities need.

The mayors greeted each other with hugs and tears, and they pleaded with their governor for some of the things their communities need most: drinking water, prescription drugs, gasoline, oxygen tanks and satellite phones. The entire population remains without electricity. Families everywhere are unable to buy food or medical treatment. Roads remain waterlogged, and looting has begun to take place at night.

There are still things happening in Puerto Rico that threaten further destruction.

The Guajataca Dam is “releasing water” after suffering “infrastructure damage” following the Category 5 storm, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN late Sunday.

About 70,000 people in the area of the Guajataca Dam were told to evacuate on Friday, according to the National Guard. With more than 95% of wireless cell sites out of service, authorities had to physically go to thousands of residents to warn them of the potential collapse.

This is an American crisis, playing out right now. Trump is tweeting, while Americans search for food and water in shattered towns flooded by backed up sewage plants and threatened by further floods, landslides, and a breakdown of order.

All of this is taking place against the backdrop of a financial crisis in which Congress has forced Puerto Rico to live with a crippling level of austerity following an economic crash.

Before Hurricane Maria, the gross national product of Puerto Rico had declined 15 percent, as had its population, thanks to the ongoing recession that hit Puerto Rico in 2006. This translates into a dramatic reduction in economic activity in the already cash-strapped territory.

Fifty-eight percent of Puerto Rican children live in poverty.

Nevertheless, the people of Puerto Rico took in tens of thousands of refugees made homeless by the passage of Irma across the Caribbean, including thousands from the Virgin Islands who were hit at that time.

Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have been hit harder than anywhere in the Untied States in decades. It’s an extraordinary disaster that deserves a proportionally large, extraordinary response. The Navy should be there in force. The Army should be there in force. Whole flotillas of ships should be plying between the continental US our fellow Americans on these islands to make things right.

Hurricane Maria has devastated Puerto Rico, which now looks like a war zone. Those with the least will suffer the most.

Let us stand with determination and a resolute will to rebuild. Let the rest of the United States show Puerto Rico our devotion and determination in this great time of need. Let this point be the bottom from which we will build up.


Reprinted with permission from Daily Kos