Meryanne Aldea lost everything at her house when the winds of Hurricane Maria ripped away the roof. The mountain town of Juncos is one of the most affected areas in Puerto Rico, and it remains largely isolated from the rest of the island — and the world. Photo: DENNIS M. Rivera Pichardo / The Washington Post

By Samantha Schmidt and Joel Achenbach
24 September 2017

JUNCOS, Puerto Rico (The Washington Post) – In the heat and humidity here in the central mountains, Meryanne Aldea fanned her bedridden mother with a piece of cardboard Sunday as the ailing woman lay on her side, relieving a large ulcer in her back.

The 63-year-old mother, Maria Dolores Hernandez, had cotton stuffed in her ears to keep flies out, since her now screenless windows were letting all sorts of bugs in. The gray-haired diabetic woman spoke with her daughter about her worries: that she would run out of prescription drugs, that they were almost out of generator fuel to keep her insulin refrigerated and to run the fans at night. With all the heat, she feared that her ulcer would become infected.

But she worried most about her daughter’s home on the floor above hers, which was destroyed by Hurricane Maria. The shrieking winds had ripped off the zinc roof and the pounding rains had soaked the unprotected rooms below. While the outer concrete walls were mostly intact, everything else was ruined, covered by dirty tree branches, leaves, glass and debris.

Aldea reached out to hold her mother’s hand.

“Relax,” she said. “It’s okay.”

Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

For many residents, the challenge of accessing the essentials of modern life — gasoline, cash, food, water — began to sink in. And government officials had no answers for them. Estimates for the return of electricity and basic services will be measured not in days but in weeks and months. For those most vulnerable, far too long.

Many have been openly wondering when help will arrive, whether from local officials or from the federal government. The first thing some villagers ask when they see outsiders: “Are you FEMA?”

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló is warning that his government needs broader assistance from the federal government, calling on the Pentagon especially to provide more aid for law enforcement and transportation. Rosselló said he’s also worried that Congress will shortchange his island once the initial wave of emergency relief is gone.

“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” he said Sunday night. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”

For federal agencies trying to respond to Maria, the situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is inescapably more challenging than the situations in Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It’s difficult to get onto the islands.

The airports and harbors here were severely damaged. That means the islands are more isolated than ever, even as the humanitarian crisis has worsened by the day.

So although massive amounts of food, water, fuel and other supplies have been dispatched by federal agencies and private organizations, with more resources on the way, this has been an obstacle-filled process.

Federal agencies have succeeded in clearing the use of the Port of San Juan for daytime operations, but other ports remain closed pending inspections. Many roads are blocked, inhibiting relief convoys. The Transportation Department has opened five airports in Puerto Rico and two in the U.S. Virgin Islands, but only for military and relief efforts. […]

In Juncos, scores of homes were destroyed, and thousands of homes sustained damage, Mayor Alfredo Alejandro estimated. Four highways are inaccessible by car, and two bridges were harmed. Roofs of homes all over town are gone, and almost all government buildings were damaged.

Mountains typically brimming with trees and other vegetation are brown and desolate, stripped of all greenery. The mayor of 17 years said he discovered a river he never knew existed in his town, because it was always overgrown with plants. Curved bamboo lining the winding roads were left as bare sticks.

Less than a week ago, Alejandro said, “I had a pretty town.”

“Today I have a desert,” he said. [more]

Hot, isolated, and running out of supplies, parts of Puerto Rico near desperation

1 comments :

  1. Dennis Mitchell said...

    I can't remember the last report I saw on hurricane relief in Texas, but I have heard plenty about the pledge of allegiance. Thanks Trump, way to lead a country. United we stand. Divided we have become.
     

 

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