It’s just few days since hurricane Maria knocked Puerto Rico, leaving the whole island in communications and power blackout. Also, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island- and the world. However, for many residents, the difficulty of accessing essentials i.e. cash, food, water and gasoline began to sink in. And the government officials had no answer for them.
Now it is estimated that the return of basic services like electricity will be measured not in days but weeks and months. Many people are now questioning when help will arrive, whether from federal government or local officials. However, Puerto Rico’s governor Ricardo Rosello is pleading that his administration requires broader assistance from the federal government, calling on the Pentagon specifically to provide more aid. Rosello has also expressed his worry that the Congress will shortchange his island once the initial wave of emergency relief is gone.
“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” he said recently. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start ignoring now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.” For federal agencies making the effort to respond to Maria, the case in Puerto Rico and the U.S virgin lands are more isolated than the one in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. So despite the fact that huge amounts of food, water, fuel and other necessities have been dispatched by federal agencies and private organizations, and with more on the way, this has been an obstacle filled process.
The federal agencies however have succeeded in clearing the use of the Port of San Juan for daytime operations as other ports remain closed pending inspections. Many roads are blocked, inhibiting relief convoys. So the Transportation Department has opened five airports in Puerto Rico and two in the U.S Virgin Islands, but only for military and relief efforts. About six cargo ships have been commissioned to deliver supplies including, food, water and generators to the Caribbean islands, and more supplies are on the way by ship from Florida.
Among the provisions: The Defense Logistics Agency is sending 124,000 gallons of diesel fuel to Puerto Rico. In addition to the anxiety about basic survival, on the west side of the island concerns have intensified about a ruptured dam that has been barely holding back the waters of Lake Guajataca. Government officials said recently that the “fissure” in the dam is “large and will collapse any time.” A multitude of people residing in nearby towns have been advised to evacuate.
The dam’s failure could lead to massive amounts of water flowing unabated through coastal communities. In Juncos, many homes including government buildings were destroyed by the hurricane. Mountains typically overflowing with trees and other vegetation are brown and desolate, stripped of all their beauty. The mayor of 17 years said that he discovered a river he never knew existed in his town, because it was always overgrown with plants. Curved bamboo lining winding roads were left as bare sticks.
Puerto Rico’s executive director of emergency management said in an interview that aerial views of destruction in this region looked “more like a tornado than a hurricane.” But Maria’s destruction in the town is just the beginning. The mayor said in an interview that Juncos “anxiously” needs water, diesel, hospital equipment and satellite phones for local leadership. Some local responders in Juncos were forced to clear area streets by hand with machetes, because the town doesn’t have enough chain saws. Just two gas stations were functioning in the town, and lines stretched for more than half a mile.
Some people walked and rode bicycles for miles with empty gas canisters in hand. One of the town’s two supermarkets was open, and employees would let in only 10 people at a time to avoid chaos. Residents, who stood in line for hours, could purchase only rationed food. There is no functioning bank or cash machine in the entire municipality.
Surprisingly, there are some moments of hope amid the misery as some of the survivors are calm and even thankful to God for sparing their lives. Even recently a small group of about thirty people gathered top pray in a small church. So, in conclusion we are not aware of what is going to hit Puerto Rico next and so the federal government, private organizations and even good Samaritans need to double their efforts so that the affected people can be supplied with enough necessities like food, water and fuel.
Is it just the beginning? Or we are safe?
What can we do at a personal level to help the affected?