The National Guard / Flickr puerto rico hurricane...
The National Guard / Flickr

A week after Hurricane Maria crossed the island, the situation in Puerto Rico still totters on the edge of widespread catastrophe.

On the ground, Puerto Rico remains a patchwork of desperate fixes, with 3.4 million people improvising ways to get much-needed medicine, diesel for their generators, food for their shelves and water to either drink or bathe in. With no choice, people wait and wait, some as long as a day for gas or hours for food at local supermarkets, which are letting in 25 people at a time to avoid mayhem.

Almost all of the island is still without power. Most areas still have no communication. The number of small-scale and personal disasters still to be reported is difficult to assess.

Meanwhile, following a press conference in which Donald Trump declared no fewer than a dozen times that he was doing a “great” job in Puerto Rico, and said that his actions there received ‘great reviews,’ the administration continues to block an action that could provide relief to the island.

The Trump administration on Tuesday denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel and supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, saying it would do nothing to address the island’s main impediment to shipping, damaged ports.

While the Trump White House says that temporarily lifting the Jones Act wouldn’t help — it also couldn’t possibly hurt. Limiting the number of ships that can reach the island isn’t just about the amount of material that can be delivered, it’s about the prices. By keeping the fleet that can serve Puerto Rico small at a time when demand outstrips all possible supply, it drives the price of delivery upward.

The failure to lift the restriction makes many worry that Trump is more worried about protecting profits than Puerto Rico.

The Jones Act requires that material shipped from one part of the United States to another travel only on ships that are registered in the United States. That limits the ships that can potentially deliver supplies in Puerto Rico to a small fraction of the available fleet, as most ships in the region are not US ships. It has been waved several times in the past, including lifting the law so that foreign oil tankers could dock following Hurricane Harvey.

Which makes the reaction in this case more of a mystery.

The Department of Homeland Security, which waived the act after hurricanes Harvey and Irma, did not agree an exemption would help this time. …

The refusal to allow the waiver “is raising fears on the island that they are going to be left behind in this disaster.”

Claims that damaged ports are the biggest limit may well be accurate, but lifting the Jones Act still strikes many as vital, especially considering the scale and duration of the emergency.

“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain wrote.

A failure to deliver adequate supplies by sea has kept conditions across Puerto Rico on the edge of catastrophe with some of the damage still to be discovered. With federal workers on the island still less than a third of those who were sent to Texas following Hurricane Harvey and almost none of the volunteer forces that descended in number on both Florida and Texas following recent hurricanes, actions in Puerto Rico have so far been almost entirely limited to the area around the capital, with very little help reaching out across the remainder of the island.

“People say FEMA is going to help us,” Valentin said Tuesday as she showed Associated Press journalists around the sodden wreckage of her home. “We’re waiting.”

Many others are also waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government. But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help.

Hospitals are without power and supplies. Many roads are washed out. Power and communications down. Across much of Puerto Rico, the grade given government reaction is anything but “great.”

The roads are passable now but the community is still isolated. “Nobody has visited, not from the government, not from the city, no one,” said Antonio Velez, a 64-year-old who has lived there his entire life.

The same complaint echoed throughout the southeast coastal town of Yabucoa, the first town Maria hit as it barreled across the island with 155 mph winds.

“Nothing, nothing, nothing,” said 58-year-old retiree Angel Luis Rodriguez. “I’ve lost everything, and no one has shown up to see if anyone lives here.”

This is one instance when every American would love to see Donald Trump genuinely doing a competent, complete, and thoughtful job. However, at the moment he seems to be more interested in telling everyone how great he’s doing, than actually doing anything great.

“There’s been no help from the mayor or from the federal government,” said 64-year-old retiree Maria Rodriguez as she held a coconut in her right hand and took sips from it. “After Georges hit us (in 1998), they responded quickly. But now? Nothing. We need water and food.”

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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