It’s been just over three weeks since Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria. More than 80 percent of the island is still without power, which in itself is a life-threatening situation. Officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency have told reporters there is a daily shortfall of 1.8 million meals. And “hospitals are running low on medicine and high on patients,” as the New York Times reported Tuesday.
And yet Thursday morning, President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw federal support from the island.
Trump also blamed the crisis on Puerto Ricans and their stagnating infrastructure, echoing earlier tweets from September 30, when he said that Puerto Rican leaders want “everything done for them.”
And he harped on Puerto Rico’s problems before the storm, quoting TV journalist Sharyl Attkisson:
Ultimately, Congress will decide how much to spend on the island territory home to 3.4 million American citizens, he said.
It’s true that no recovery effort can last forever. But given the scale of the disaster in Puerto Rico, the military and FEMA support of Puerto Rico should continue long past three weeks. It took most of a year to clean up the wreckage of the Twin Towers after 9/11. And consider how the US military has been in Afghanistan for more than 15 years. The federal government clearly knows how to facilitate a long-term effort in difficult conditions.
Reports from the ground make it clear Puerto Rico is far from recovered. The Environmental Protection Agency said Wednesday in a press release that some Puerto Ricans have been trying to get drinking water from contaminated Superfund sites on the island. Ten people have contracted leptospirosis, a disease spread in drinking water contaminated by animal excrement. And there’s compelling evidence to believe the death toll on the island is much higher than official reports, and is still climbing.
And yet Trump still thinks the response has been fantastic. Here’s what he tweeted Sunday.
Read more on the dire situation in Puerto Rico:
- Everything that’s been reported about deaths in Puerto Rico is at odds with the official count. Vox’s Eliza Barclay and Alexia Fernández Campbell scoured news reports from the island for reporting on the death toll. The official count from the government is 45. It may actually be closer to 450.
- Why power outages are so deadly. Julia Belluz explains “when the power is out, it becomes painfully clear how much the medical, public health, and sanitation systems rely on the electrical grid to keep people safe and healthy.”
- The New York Times reports on the dire conditions still found in the island’s hospitals. “Seriously ill dialysis patients across Puerto Rico have seen their treatment hours reduced by 25 percent because the centers still lack a steady supply of diesel to run their generators,” the Times found.
- The Guardian reports that officials are quietly acknowledging a huge food shortage on the island. FEMA says the government is providing 200,000 meals a day. But there are millions of people on the island.