SAN JUAN – Humanitarian aid and supplies are trickling in to the more isolated areas of Puerto Rico after the devastation wrought by the passage of Hurricane Maria and as the island tries to recover.
Most Puerto Ricans are without electricity, which is the main challenge before local authorities, five days after Maria, but the overall quality of life situation was already worsening before the storm because the US Commonwealth was already mired in a severe economic crisis.
Now, however, the electric grid has been practically destroyed, except for certain facilities like hospitals, and telecommunications are spotty, at best, leaving most people without cellphone coverage.
The island’s Public Affairs secretary, Ramon Rosario, said at a press conference that the preliminary “official” death toll resulting directly from the Category 5 storm stands at 16, although this figure could rise.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello and his team are trying to get the island back on its feet and have appealed to Washington for aid, and President Donald Trump has promised to help Puerto Rico and has announced that he will visit in the near future to view storm damage firsthand.
Rossello told reporters that what his government is suggesting initially is getting aircraft and other equipment so that isolated groups of people can be reached, saying that they are trying to prevent a “humanitarian crisis.”
Although the electric infrastructure situation is critical, certain facilities are operating with diesel generators, including the Medical Center, the island’s main hospital.
The island’s ports are operating and ships with food and supplies are arriving and being unloaded, and personnel from US federal agencies are on the ground working on their various assigned recovery, distribution and coordination tasks.
Meanwhile, US House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Monday that Congress is working with the Donald Trump administration to ensure that the necessary resources get to Puerto Rico in the wake of the storm.
“The stories and images coming out of Puerto Rico are devastating,” Ryan said in a brief statement. “Congress is working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to the US territory. Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico remain in our prayers as we make sure they have what they need.”