SAN JUAN – Puerto Ricans not only are reeling from Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact on the island’s infrastructure but also are facing extreme difficulty in obtaining access to cash, the only means of payment accepted at commercial establishments in recent days.
On the main streets of the capital city of San Juan, people wait in long lines to obtain the cash they need to purchase food, fuel or the scarce bottled water that sits on supermarket shelves.
Electronic payment systems have been out of service since Hurricane Maria battered the United States commonwealth on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 hurricane and wiped out nearly all of the island’s transmission and local power lines.
More than a week after the hurricane, only 5 percent of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) customers have electricity service.
The desperate search for fuel and food had caused massive lines to form outside service stations and supermarkets, and the scarcity of cash has caused similar situations at bank branches, which are only gradually resuming normal service.
Ruben Rivera, a maintenance worker at a building in San Juan’s beach district, told EFE that he had been waiting for two hours outside a bank branch because he only had $10 in his pocket and no stores in the city were accepting any form of payment other than cash.
“I have no choice but to be here to get money out of the ATM,” said Rivera, who will later need to get in the back of long lines at a supermarket and service station.
Puerto Ricans, who had been suffering the effects of a long economic crisis even before Maria ravaged the island, have suffered a further drastic plunge in their quality of life due to the hurricane.
In addition to the 95 percent of the population that does not have electricity, roughly half of the island’s 3.4 million residents are still without potable water. Telecommunications service, meanwhile, is only gradually being restored.
Although the situation is trying in San Juan, it is even worse in interior and mountainous areas of the US commonwealth, where aid supplies are arriving intermittently and many zones have been without power since Hurricane Irma battered the island on Sept. 6.