It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico, and hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans living in remote villages remain cut off from the world, after the storm trashed power grids, tore up roads, downed cell towers and caused a dam in the northwestern part of the island to fail, endangering tens of thousands of people living in a valley below.
Hospitals, especially in rural areas, have been hopelessly crippled by the storm, which has left them dependent on backup generators for power, threatening the lives of thousands of vulnerable patients. Shipments of diesel fuel to the hospitals are delivered by armed guards to protect against looters – which sounds like something from the plot of one of the “Mad Max” movies.
CNN sent low-flying planes over the island to survey the landscape, and they’ve brought back some stunning footage of the damage. News anchor Jake Tapper tweeted this before-and-after photo, which shows how more than 90% remains mired in blackouts more than a week after the storm made landfall.
Puerto Rico before the hurricane:
Some meteorologists said Maria hit Puerto Rico with the flooding of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and the windspeeds of Hurricane Irma in Florida.
"It is as if Puerto Rico got hit with the strength of Irma's winds, leaving a trail of devastation worse than much of the destruction Irma left in Florida," said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones. "The rainfall in some areas of Puerto Rico rival the amounts of rain left by Harvey in Houston. And now they are contending with a dam disaster that is reminiscent of California's Oroville Dam crisis earlier this year."
After flying over Puerto Rico on Sunday, CNN's Leyla Santiago said residents could be seen along the highways searching for a cellphone signal. With the island’s emergency responders still struggling to evacuate and rescue villagers, the Trump administration has been criticized for not doing enough.
In a tweet Sunday, Clinton said, "President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens."
President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens. https://t.co/J2FVg4II0n— Hillary Clinton (@HillaryClinton) September 24, 2017
Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló appeared on Morning Joe Tuesday morning to plead for more assistance for the island.
“This has been an unprecedented disaster, not only for Puerto Rico, but for all of the region...we need more help. We need more help with resources. We need more help with people being deployed so that we can get logistical support elsewhere."
However, the White House has countered that airplanes and ships loaded with meals, water and generators have been arriving or are headed to Puerto Rico and other affected Caribbean islands. FEMA tweeted that more than 10,000 federal employees are in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin islands helping with search and rescue efforts and moving goods.
CNN reported that Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA administrator Brock Long were traveling to Puerto Rico.
"The federal response has been anything but slow," Sanders said. "There's been an unprecedented push through of billions of dollars in federal assistance."
As Bloomberg points out, Puerto Rico’s recovery will depend heavily on federal aid because the island simply has no money to cope with a catastrophe like the storm that passed through last week.
The island has effectively filed for bankruptcy to try and escape $70 billion of debt. The fiscal collapse has effectively shut down Puerto Rico’s access to the US bond market, promising to make it more difficult for the island’s government to borrow money for the rebuilding effort.
As President Trump pointed out in a series of late-night tweets, the island is in “deep trouble,” noting that the country’s “old” electrical grid was devastated.
Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars....— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
...owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 26, 2017
Congress last year enacted emergency rescue legislation that extended Puerto Rico’s authority to seek court protection from creditors, which it previously lacked. But the federal government has provided little financial assistance beyond that.
Puerto Rico’s representative in Congress, Jennifer Gonzalez Colon, said she has talked with House Speaker Paul Ryan about securing more aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
When all is said and done, the disaster could cost as much as $30 billion and some residents could be without power for months. As we reported yesterday, in many areas, residents have been forced to transact only in cash, which is quickly becoming a problem for those who didn’t stockpile enough money ahead of the storm.