3 weeks after Maria, Puerto Rico’s pain is unending

Thursday marks three weeks to the day since Hurricane Maria leveled Puerto Rico.

Since then, the island’s 3.4 million American citizens have been plagued with power outages and a dangerous shortage of drinking water. More than a hundred people remain unaccounted for. Animal corpses rot in stagnant water, inviting infection and disease.

Over all of it, the shadow of debt looms. The estimated cost of Maria’s damage is $95 billion — almost an entire year’s economic output for the island.

As Puerto Ricans continue to struggle to find basic necessities, President Trump criticized the island’s dated infrastructure and implied that sending aid there was becoming too burdensome.

“We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!” Trump tweeted.

So how is Puerto Rico faring? If the federal government pulls resources from the US territory, is the island ready to move on without aid?

The short answer is, absolutely not.

How bad is it?

  • So far, Maria has claimed the lives of 45 people in Puerto Rico, and that number may climb, as 113 others remain unaccounted for.
  • Some 83% of Puerto Ricans have no power. That means no Internet, no way to get cell phones working, and limited means to communicate or get information.
  • The drinking water situation is particularly dire. Thirty-six percent of Puerto Ricans are without potable water. That’s more than 1.2 million people who are struggling to find a most critical resource. The situation is so bad that the US Environmental Protection Agency recently revealed some desperate citizens are trying to break into wells at hazardous wastes sites just to get water, even though the water there is unsafe to drink.
  • Waterways on the island provide no safe relief. Raw sewage continues to spill into rivers and streams. Urine and fluids from animals, dead and alive, mix with chemicals and human sewage, meaning the water isn’t just dangerous for drinking. It’s dangerous just to be around at all.

How bad can it get?

The water shortages and power outages aren’t independent problems. Until both are solved, residents of the island will be in very real danger.

Already two people have died of leptospirosis, which spreads when the urine of infected animals gets into drinking water. This public health threat won’t be fully mitigated, the EPA says, until waterways and infrastructure are repaired and power is restored.

If boiling water to make it safe for drinking is out of the question, the EPA has recommended disinfecting it with bleach.

What is the government doing?

Today, the House will vote on a $36.5 billion disaster aid package for Puerto Rico. This includes almost $5 billion in potential loans and almost $19 billion for FEMA’s depleted Disaster Relief Fund.

According to FEMA, 19,000 civilian and military personnel are supporting the federal relief mission. This week, FEMA also approved a $70 million assistance package for the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority for emergency repairs.

How you can help

There are several ways.

Donate money: Find out more about charities aiding Hurricane Maria victims by clicking on the button below:

Give your time: Puerto Rico will also need volunteers. Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster can help match you with groups on the ground that are responding.