US Cities Demand Federal Help As They Brace For Influx Of 100,000s Of Puerto Ricans

As the disaster-relief effort enters its second week, air traffic is slowly resuming, which means hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans will likely flee the devastated island to stay with friends and relatives in the continental US as they wait for FEMA to rebuild roads, repair power grids and and revive the island's communications infrastructure – a process that could take months, if not longer.

While the urgency of the situation leaves many of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million population little choice, the Financial Times is reporting that the scramble to flee could worsen the population decline as some of those leaving may opt to permanently resettle. Meanwhile, cities with large Puerto Rican populations are asking for federal assistance as they prepare to absorb as many as 100,000 people fleeing the hurricane.

Mainland US cities with large Puerto Rican populations are warning that they will need federal help to cope with an anticipated influx of island residents fleeing the devastation visited on the US commonwealth by Hurricane Maria.


“If it’s as large-scale as we anticipated, it’s got to be a federal and state-co-ordinated response,” said Buddy Dyer, Orlando’s mayor. “It can’t be city by city.”

Some have said they expect to host the disaster victims for up to six months.

“We are expecting a large influx of evacuees to the state,” said Teresa Jacobs, mayor of Orange County in Florida, which includes Orlando. “We will have a major evacuation population for an extended period of time — three months, six months.”

Some city officials claimed that they’re working with state and federal officials to formulate a coordinated response.

Officials from the Orlando area said on Wednesday that co-ordination with the federal government was in the early stages.

 

“We are reaching out to federal authorities,” said Ms Jacobs. “We are planning to have a forum next Tuesday with federal authorities as well as state authorities just to get the conversation started about the co-ordination and the logistics of this effort.”

As the FT noted, the severity of the crisis was underscored on Thursday when President Donald Trump waived the Jones Act, allowing more ships to make their way to Puerto Rico. In a series of tweets, Trump lauded the disaster response, saying that navy vessels have delivered millions of dollars of supplies to the island.
 

 

 

 

 

Congress, meanwhile, has pledged to deposit another $7 billion in Puerto Rico's emergency relief account by the end of next week.

However, as WSJ reported, thousands of shipping containers holding potentially life-saving supplies have been marooned at ports in San Juan as FEMA scrambles to rebuild roads and set up a makeshift distribution system to deliver supplies to needy disaster victims across the island.

Crowley Maritime Corp., based in Jacksonville, Fla., but a major operator of cargo ships to Puerto Rico, had 4,100 containers with both relief supplies and commercial cargo waiting at San Juan’s port on Thursday. Another carrier, TOTE Maritime, said earlier this week it had more than 3,000 shipping containers stacked up at the port awaiting transport.

While Democrats have criticized the disaster response, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Friday that the Trump administration has been very attentive in its response to the situation in Puerto Rico, as the Washington Examiner reported.

"I have to say that the administration has responded to our petitions. FEMA, Brock Long, has been on the phone virtually all the time with me, checking out how things are going," said Rossello, leader of the New Progressive Party.

Puerto Rico is US territory, which grants its residents citizenship but not the right to vote in US elections. Over the past decade, many have left the island as its economy has deteriorated, resulting in Congress appointing a federal oversight board to oversee to manage the island’s finances while it negotiates an accord with its creditors.

Meanwhile, the mayor of Puerto Rican capital San Juan issued an angry response to acting DHS Secretary Elaine Duke, who, in defending the Trump administration’s response to the disaster, described the situation in Puerto Rico as a “good news story in terms of our ability to reach people.”


“Well, maybe from where she’s standing it’s a good news story. When you’re drinking from a creek, it’s not a good news story.”

 

“Where is the good news here?”

As much as 40% of Puerto Rico doesn’t have access to potable water.

Meanwhile, in the rush to get off the island, crowds jammed the cruise ship dock in San Juan desperately hoping to board a Royal Caribbean cruise ship the Adventure of the Seas, which was sent to help evacuate people struggling to find a way off Puerto Rico following the destruction of Hurricane Maria.

According to the New York Post, more than 2,000 people sweltered in the hot sun, forming a line stretching down the shore and a pier.

Expect the exodus to the mainland to intensify as shell-shocked Puerto Ricans scramble to get off the island by any means necessary.