Puerto Rico: An ongoing disaster
“It’s been three months since Hurricane Maria changed everything in Puerto Rico,” said Vann Newkirk in The Atlantic.com. Yet “nobody knows what the end of the island’s electricity and humanitarian crises will look like, or when it will come.” Incredibly, about 50 percent of power customers are still without electricity. Full power to the island of 3.5 million people won’t be restored until late May, federal officials now admit. “Puerto Rico is drowning in millions of cubic yards of trash,” its hospitals and health-care system are barely functioning, and the official death toll, currently 64, may actually be more than 1,000, according to on-the-ground reporting by the Center for Investigative Journalism. “President Trump awarded himself a 10 out of 10 score two months ago for his response to Hurricane Maria,” said Dana Milbank in The Washington Post. “When all is tallied,” though, the scale of the human tragedy “will be very much on par with what Trump considers ‘a real catastrophe like Katrina,’ which killed about 1,800.”
Imagine living for months without electricity, said Mattathias Schwartz in New York magazine. It means no heating, air-conditioning, or refrigeration; no traffic signals; no TV or internet; and entire communities who have to rely on word of mouth for information. People take cold showers to escape the tropical heat and humidity. Clean drinking water remains scarce. Amid growing desperation and despair, the suicide rate has doubled.
In fairness to Trump, this crisis was years in the making, said The San Diego Union-Tribune in an editorial. Puerto Rico’s power infrastructure was already “in decrepit shape,” while the territory’s mountainous terrain has hampered recovery efforts. Still, there are obvious disparities between the massive scale of the federal government’s efforts in Texas and Florida following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and its sluggish, largely ineffective response in Puerto Rico. Some attribute the lack of urgency to “a nativist president’s disdain for the Spanish-speaking Latinos”—some of whom dared to criticize him. In the end, “Trump’s casual treatment of their struggle may come back to haunt Republicans,” said Alexia Fernández Campbell in Vox.com. Hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans have already fled for Florida. Ignored until now, “they will likely voice their frustrations in the voting booth in the coming midterm elections.”