Puerto Rico still devastated weeks after Hurricane Maria

This video from the USA says about itself:

Weeks After Hurricane, Puerto Rico Lacks Water, Working Hospitals, Electricity & Considers Solar

11 October 2017

Three weeks after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, President Trump asked Congress for $4.9 billion loan to help the island pay government salaries and other expenses. This comes as he allowed a 10-day waiver of the Jones Act to lapse, restricting shipments of food, fuel and medicine from foreign-flagged ships as nearly half of the island still lacks clean water and nearly 90 percent lacks electricity.

This comes as military security firms continue to patrol the streets of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan, and Academi, formerly known as Blackwater, has a pending bid to provide security services for water transportation.

Meanwhile, solar companies and nonprofits say they could help Puerto Rico regain power. We get an update from Democracy Now!’s Juan González and speak with Rev. Jesse Jackson, civil rights leader and the founder and president of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, who helped to gather aid to send to Puerto Rico, and has written a column published around the country this week titled “How to put Puerto Rico back on its feet.”

Puerto Rico still devastated, storm Nate threatens

This video says about itself:

Special Report: Puerto Ricans in Vieques Cope with Devastation & Fear Toxic Contamination from Maria

6 October 2017

We end today’s show where we began the week: in Puerto Rico. Doctors say the island’s health system remains crippled two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island, leaving more than 90 percent of the island without electricity and half of its residents without drinking water. That’s at least according to statistics published by FEMA on Wednesday.

But on Thursday, FEMA removed data about access to drinking water and electricity in Puerto Rico from its website. Democracy Now!’s Juan Carlos Dávila is on the ground in Puerto Rico, and this week he managed to make it to the island of Vieques to speak with residents of the area that the U.S. Navy used as a bombing range for decades.

Since the 1940s, the Navy used nearly three-quarters of the island for bombing practice, war games and dumping old munitions. The bombing stopped after a campaign of nonviolent civil disobedience, but the island continues to suffer. The Navy says it will take until 2025 to remove all the environmental damage left by more than 60 years of target practice. Juan Carlos filed this report from Vieques in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

By Rafael Azul:

Puerto Rico continues to languish as tropical storm Nate threatens US Gulf Coast

7 October 2017

The current hurricane season in the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico is proving to be one of the most destructive on record.

On October 5, tropical storm Nate struck Central America and skirted Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula; it is now headed toward the Gulf Coast of the United States.

Nate is fast moving and is headed in the direction of the Mississippi River Delta; New Orleans, Louisiana; Mobile, Alabama; and Pensacola, Florida, where it is expected to strike late tonight as a category one hurricane, with winds of 75 miles an hour.

An early count shows seven casualties in Costa Rica and 15 in Nicaragua. Costa Rican authorities also reported that 15 people are missing and some 5,000 were evacuated to emergency shelters. Louisiana has declared a state of emergency and ordered evacuations of low-lying areas.

Further to the east torrential rain and high winds are being predicted for Puerto Rico this weekend, still languishing from hurricane Maria, which struck more than two weeks ago knocking out the US territory’s entire electrical grid. Approximately 90 percent of the island remains without power and access to clean drinking water is limited.

Rain fell hard in Ponce and other southern cities on Friday increasing the danger of flash floods and mudslides. There are predictions of 10 inches of rain across the island by Sunday. Puerto Rican authorities issued a flash flood warning for the entire island.

Lares and Utuado, in the center of the island, are among the most damaged by Hurricane María, and still largely isolated, facing floods and mudslides. Directly to the north from them are the cities of Quebradillas and Isabela, close to the damaged Guajataca Dam. If this weekend’s rains force authorities to release more water from the dam into the Guajataca River, more flooding will impact those two cities and other coastal communities. The rainstorm is also limiting shipping around the island.

Meanwhile, Trump administration officials have continued to insist that President Donald Trump did not mean to say in a Tuesday night interview on Fox News that Puerto Rico would not have to pay its $74 billion debt obligation.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders declared that the president does not believe that the debt should be erased. What he really meant, said Sanders, is that the island should continue with the bankruptcy process under the Promise Act, administered by the Financial Oversight and Management Board.

“There’s a process for how to deal with Puerto Rico’s debt, and it will have to go through that process to have a lasting recovery and growth,” Sanders insisted. “This was a process that was put in place and set up under Obama, and that has a board of advisors that deals with that debt. And it will go through that process as we move forward.”

Sanders spoke a day after White House budget director Mick Mulvaney urged people not to take the president’s remarks literally.

The grim reality is that a $74 billion debt that was “not payable” in 2015, in the words of Governor Alejandro Padilla, before the one-two punch of Hurricanes Irma and María, is ever more so now that there are no significant assets for the vulture funds to pillage, and as a greater portion of the Puerto Rican population migrates to the US. Puerto Rico will now have to raise some $90 billion just to rebuild the inadequate infrastructure and housing that existed the day before Irma struck.

Recovery across the island is slow, there are reports that some public schools may reopen by the end of the month, and electricity is being restored at a snail’s pace. People continue to cue up for gasoline and for cash. According to one resident, “fuel has become like gold.” Forty percent or more of the population continues to be out of water.

The existence of water distribution centers, which in many cases consist of just one faucet or garden hose, are often not being advertised by the government with people finding out about them through word of mouth. The lack of water combined with no electricity to power air conditioners and fans in the island’s tropical heat is fast becoming a public health catastrophe.

Two weeks on there has yet to be a credible accounting of the extent of the damage, of how many people actually died from the storm; how many were injured; how many remain missing; an exact count of destroyed homes and businesses; how many people are still employed; or how the mosquito population exploded bringing with it the danger of Zika and other diseases.

As with London’s Grenfell Tower Fire, authorities are keen on hiding this information, surely out of concern that it will trigger a social explosion. Many of the reports coming in appear in the Facebook pages of volunteer groups in the mainland organizing the delivery of supplies and the rescue of those of that need to leave the island.

New information, particularly from the south and southeast, where the hurricane hit first and hardest, indicates that conditions are much worse than initially expected. Eleven thousand homes were destroyed in just four suburbs of Ponce, for instance. Yauco and Juana Díaz to the west survived the harshest pummeling of the storm only to be inundated a day after by the flooding of the Luchetti River, entirely covering many homes with water.

On Wednesday a resident of a Río Piedras home for the elderly committed suicide in desperation. Meanwhile, in at least one hospital, the stench of rotting corpses in its morgue forced it to sharply curtail all but emergency operations.

Donald Trump insults devastated Puerto Rico

This video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Throws Paper Towels To Puerto Ricans

3 October 2017

What a fun photo op… Cenk Uygur, host of The Young Turks, breaks it down.

President Trump lobbed paper towels into a crowd at a church in Puerto Rico Tuesday where he was meeting with Hurricane Maria survivors.

Photos and pool reports documented his visit at the Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, at an event for those impacted by the destructive hurricane last month. Trump was handing out supplies as part of a one-day visit to the island to survey hurricane damage.

The weird moment where he took a basketball stance and threw the rolls into the crowd had a lot of viewers at home scratching their heads.”

Read more here.

By Rafael Azul:

Trump’s photo-op in Puerto Rico

4 October 2017

Two weeks after Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, leaving millions without electricity, water and other basic necessities, US President Donald Trump did a quick fly-in and fly-out Tuesday to pronounce what a wonderful job his administration has done to address the crisis.

Trump’s entourage included his wife Melania, some cabinet members, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and Jenniffer González, chairwoman of the Puerto Rico Republican Party and the island’s nonvoting member of the US House of Representative.

The president’s handlers made sure that Trump—who clearly did not want to be there—appeared in public as little as possible to prevent any opportunity for public protest. After a little more than four hours, the president flew off, an hour ahead of schedule.

The people the president did speak to were preselected. He visited an upscale neighborhood in Guaynabo, west of the capital city of San Juan, which has been one of the fastest areas to have electricity, communication and other services restored. At a local church, he threw rolls of paper towels out to a crowd in the most demeaning fashion, later saying, “There’s a lot of love in this room, a lot of love. Great people.”

During his press conference, however, Trump could hardly contain his contempt for the population of the US territory. The recovery effort and the current situation on the island, he claimed, was “really nothing short of a miracle,” adding that it was nothing like the “real catastrophe” that occurred during Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Following the press conference, Trump visited the Muñoz Rivera housing project in Guaynabo. One of the housing project residents, Raúl Cardona, told Trump “he should visit the central parts of the islands, where a lot of people have no food, no water, where a lot of people have died. What he saw in Guaynabo was nothing compared to the rest of the island”, Cardona told the El Nuevo Día newspaper about his words with Trump.

Only four percent of the island’s 3.4 million residents have power, more than half do not have clean water, and many residents are washing in rivers. With temperatures in the 90s, the lack of air conditioning and medical attention could lead to further fatalities, particularly among the elderly and infirm. Roads are blocked with debris and standing water is attracting mosquitos that can carry deadly diseases.

Thousands remain in shelters, gasoline is scarce, ATMs are out of money, and many of the supplies sent to the island have been left on docks because of the lack of diesel for trucks. Public schools, which suffered devastating destruction, may not open for six months or more, officials have said.

Trump repeated the official claim of 16 hurricane-related fatalities. After the president left, Governor Ricardo Rosselló raised the death toll to 34. The number of fatalities is expected to grow once rescuers reach more isolated rural and mountainous areas.

Earlier in the morning, the island’s Secretary of Public Health Héctor Pesquera announced there were more than 100 cadavers in hospitals around the island, which are currently being examined to determine if they died as a result of the hurricane, the most powerful storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century.

Governor Rosselló—the MIT-trained politician who was a Clinton delegate during the Democratic Party convention last year—dutifully suppressed this information during Trump’s visit. The president later praised Rosselló for “not playing politics.”

Trump previously denounced Puerto Rican residents for the massive debt owed to the Wall Street banks, which is the result of the island’s colonial legacy, a decades-long economic recession and wholesale looting by financial speculators who control Puerto Rican debt. Rosselló and his predecessors have imposed savage austerity measures, and the island, which declared bankruptcy last May, is currently under the dictatorship of a financial oversight board imposed by the Obama administration.

During a press conference, Trump—who is proposing the largest tax cut for corporations and the rich in history—complained that the recovery effort was costing the US government too much money. “Now I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack because we’ve spent a lot of money on Puerto Rico. And that’s fine. We’ve saved a lot of lives.”

Rosselló, who has revised upward his government’s estimate of the cost of rebuilding the island’s infrastructure to $90 billion, is seeking a low-interest emergency line of credit as soon as possible, saying otherwise the government will run out of public funds by next week.

Trump has complained that Puerto Rican residents are not helping themselves enough and are essentially expecting government handouts. Last week he poured scorn via text message from his luxury golf course on local officials, including the mayor of San Juan, for complaining about the slowness of the administration’s response.

Shortly after Trump had left the island, US federal authorities denied Puerto Rico’s petition that recipients of food stamps (which are used by 46 percent of the population) be allowed to purchase meals in fast-food restaurants, given the scarcity of food in the island’s supermarkets.

PUERTO RICO MAYOR SLAMS TRUMP FOR ‘TERRIBLE AND ABOMINABLE’ STUNT For throwing paper towels into the crowd of people while visiting the hurricane-hit territory and not meeting with local leaders. In his visit Tuesday, Trump downplayed the damage in Puerto Rico, saying it’s not “a real catastrophe like Katrina.” The death toll has risen to 34 from Hurricane Maria.

THE DEVASTATION OF PUERTO RICO COULD WRECK THE PHARMACEUTICAL MARKET “Federal officials and major drugmakers are scrambling to prevent national shortages of critical drugs for treating cancer, diabetes and heart disease, as well as medical devices and supplies, that are manufactured at 80 plants in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico.” [NYT]

INSIDE THE NEW YORK IVANKA AND DONALD TRUMP JR. STORY THAT HAS THE CITY ABUZZ “Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office was busy probing a felony fraud case involving siblings Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in 2012. But after Donald Trump’s personal attorney, Marc Kasowitz, intervened, the investigation was dropped within months, according to a report from ProPublica, The New Yorker and WNYC” [HuffPost]

Wall Street demands Puerto Rico pay up: here.

Puerto Ricans protest against Donald Trump

This video says about itself:

Puerto Ricans Protest Trump’s Visit, Denounce Militarization Amid Lack of Aid Distribution

As President Trump travels to Puerto Rico two weeks after it was devastated by Hurricane Maria, we go to the island for an on-the-ground report. Democracy Now!‘s correspondent Juan Carlos Dávila traveled to the town of Utuado to speak with residents who have yet to get help other than a few bottles of water. He also joins us live in the capital San Juan from a protest against Trump‘s visit.

Trump Visits Hurricane-Battered Puerto Rico After Insult Tweets, Tells Officials That It Threw Budget ‘Out Of Whack’. Tensions are high after the president ripped into local officials’ criticism of his administration’s storm response: here.

Puerto Ricans interviewed after hurricane disaster

This video says about itself:

2 October 2017

US President Donald Trump has been engaged in a war of words with the mayor of [San Juan in] Puerto Rico, who has accused him of neglecting the US territory.

Power is still down, goods are running low and some families remain separated nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit.

Al Jazeera’s Teresa Bo followed two sisters on a journey to find their missing father.

Translated from Dutch NOS TV:

Destroyed Puerto Rico still feels it is abandoned

Today, 12:31

Wilfredo Diaz-Ramirez has been sleeping in a tent near his house for two weeks. The 78-year-old veteran’s roof has been completely blown away by Hurricane Maria. Since then, he peers from his balcony to the road every day and waits for help in vain.

“I called the emergency number of the federal emergency service FEMA yesterday and waited for two and a half hours this time,” he says. “But still nothing.”

The house of Diaz-Ramirez, or what’s left, is in Canóvanas town. There is still no electricity and no water. A few gas stations and a single supermarket are open, but the basic needs are on ration. Everywhere people are in line. And cash is king. Everything has to be paid in cash, because electronic payment has completely stopped. So the first queue of the day is the one at the bank.

Carmen Torres Fernandez has been in that queue since 6:00 in the morning. She tries to keep her tears under control: “I’m very frustrated. I have not eaten for two days now. Without cash, you can not buy anything, neither cook, we have no food, no water, nothing at all.”

This is the sad picture in the region around the capital San Juan, where the situation is relatively better than in the more remote areas. Residents say that emergency relief has come too slowly. But according to President Trump, who will visit Puerto Rico later today, the federal government is doing “a great job” …

Harvey, Irma, Maria

Still, many observers question Trump’s position. They point out the big difference between how federal emergency services responded. After Hurricane Harvey in Texas, 31,000 people were released for help, with Hurricane Irma in Florida there were 40,000. After Hurricane Maria, just over 10,000 federal workers have been active in Puerto Rico. Even General Buchanan, appointed by Trump to lead the military on the island, mentions that number is too low.

For Wilfredo Diaz-Ramirez, the way the federal government is dealing with Puerto Rico is the umpteenth proof that this piece of the United States of America does not really matter to the people on the continent. “It feels like they’ve forgotten us,” he sighed. “We are nothing but second-class citizens.”

This video from the USA says about itself:

Trump Called Out: ‘You Don’t Give A S**t About Puerto Rico’

2 October 2017

Trump got called out to his face while dedicating a golf trophy to the victims of Hurricane Maria. Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian, the hosts of The Young Turks, break it down.

“President Donald Trump on Sunday dedicated a golf trophy to hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico, and it didn’t go well.

As Trump spoke at Liberty National Golf Course in Jersey City, New Jersey, someone in the crowd called out: “You don’t give a shit about Puerto Rico.”

Online, the reaction was about the same.”

Read more here.

By Rafael Azul:

Trump visits Puerto Rico as anger grows over government response

3 October 2017

Across the United States workers and middle-class people are organizing to send help to Puerto Rico, where hundreds of thousands are without electric power and face scarcities of food, medicine and water. The outpouring of support for residents of the hurricane-ravaged island contrasts sharply with the indifference of the Trump administration.

Facing popular anger over the slow response of the federal government, Trump is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico today, nearly two weeks after the devastating storm that has left 95 percent of the residents of the US territory without power and a still unknown number of fatalities. The president spent recent days firing off angry tweets from his luxury golf course in New Jersey denouncing Puerto Rican officials for complaining about the lack of aid.

According to Reuters the Puerto Rican government, which declared financial bankruptcy in May, is diverting what little money it has on hand for emergency response while it tries to secure aid from the federal government. Trump has made it clear the island will receive no relief from the $72 billion it owes to creditors, tweeting last week that the massive debt “owed to Wall Street and the banks, sadly, must be dealt with.”

While US government aid has been slow, ordinary workers and young people in the US have collected and shipped relief supplies at their own cost. CNN reports that among those that are organizing help are high school students, such as those at Comsewogue High School in the Suffolk County suburbs of New York City, where donations of water, cereal boxes and cans of food have piled up as volunteers try to arrange transportation to the island.

Many aid groups are using social media to reach out and organize collections and deliveries.

In New Orleans, the Cajun Airlift group, pilots and aviation enthusiasts who collected and delivered 25,000 pounds of supplies to Texas after Hurricane Harvey, are now focusing on Puerto Rico. On Monday, an airplane charted by Cajun Airlift reported on its Facebook page that its first plane had reached Puerto Rico loaded with medical and other supplies. The plane flew back evacuating 14 people. Cajun Airlift is also collaborating with #OperationBoricuaAirlift in transporting rescue supplies between Puerto Rican cities.

In Los Angeles, California #LA4PR was formed on September 20, the day Hurricane María hit Puerto Rico. It has enlisted the help of the local entertainment industry. “We have our hands tied in a lot of ways but we are not stopping,” said Ana Miró, a member of Los Angeles for Puerto Rico. The group already sent some donations on Delta and JetBlue relief flights and plans to send more aid in the coming weeks. “We plan to gather things and keep sending them,” Miró said. “We are not stopping for any reason.”

Truck drivers, firefighters, and construction workers from across the country are among those volunteering to help clear the logjam that has kept tons of supplies in warehouses, unable to reach those that need them.

Within the island, volunteers continue to provide whatever assistance they can. On Monday, over 600 volunteers were cleaning up the Rio Piedras campus of the University of Puerto Rico.

Every day that goes by brings in more offers of volunteers as well as material and financial help, in contrast to the Trump administration and the meager allotment of funds released by the Financial Oversight Board that has a stranglehold on Puerto Rico’s fiscal budget.

In addition to the $72 billion in debt owed to vulture investment funds and $50 billion in underfunded public pensions, the island’s public electric utility AEE is also being held accountable for its $9 billion debt. The utility, which is in danger of being liquidated at fire sale prices, was vulnerable to storm damage due to years of cost-cutting that resulted in the lack of maintenance and the layoff of thousands of linemen, who are now desperately needed for repairs.

Nearly two weeks after the island was hit by the strongest storm since 1928 things continue to deteriorate. In cities in the Puerto Rican interior, such as Lares and Utuado, drinking water, food and fuels are being rationed. Electricity has yet to be restored. New estimates predict it may take one year to restore power to mountain cities and towns. In Lares, a mudslide has affected the local cemetery, dragging graves downhill and opening some caskets.

In Utuado another mudslide descended on part of the city, burying several vehicles.

Pablo del Llano, reporting from Lares and Utuado for El País, describes how people stop him in the street, confusing him with government officials who have yet to show up. “Are you from FEMA?” asks a man on the street, “when will we get our lights back?”

Many roads in the Puerto Rican highlands are still impassable. Fifty-five percent of the population still lacks running water; service is intermittent for many others. Of the 150 diesel generators that the water authority requested from FEMA, only three have been delivered.

In coastal Salinas, del Llano spoke to Nydia Rosario, 51, with two daughters. Last Thursday, all they had left was a box of canned food and 24 bottles of water. They had run out of money, and the ATMs are not working. With no fans or mosquito repellent, Nydia worries that disease-carrying mosquitoes may bite her daughters. “This Christmas there will be no lights,” predicted Ms. Rosario.