By Kyle Mannisi, Opinions Editor
The U.S. territory of Puerto Rico has been heavily damaged from the Category 4 Hurricane Maria, and only about five percent of its 3.4 million residents currently have power. The lack of electricity on the island leads to multiple other problems, such as water and food shortage and compromised abilities of local hospitals. FEMA reports that only one hospital in Puerto Rico is ‘fully operational’, and the rest are being forced to make due with limited capabilities on diesel generators.
Although the island imports 85 percent of its food, the storm hastily destroyed an estimated $780 million in agriculture which threatens to exacerbate the food shortage. Many grocery and convenience stores are limiting their capacity in an effort to reduce chaos.
Loss of cell signal is another large issue on the island, as cellular service towers were leveled nationwide. Dialing 911 still does not work, which means that there are likely more unreported deaths that have occurred in the aftermath of the storm.
Mass exodus from Puerto Rico is also feared, as thousands of people have fled the island and it is feared that they will never move back. The territory has already been dealing with a debt crisis, economic stagnation, and poor infrastructure, and leaving Puerto Rico for somewhere with better opportunities is an increasingly popular choice.
The people affected in Puerto Rico are all U.S. citizens, and are legally entitled to the same rights that U.S. state-dwellers have. The slow government reaction to the devastation reminds many of George Bush’s inadequate response to Hurricane Katrina. Among other egregious missteps from the government in the aftermath of the 2006 disaster, Vice President Dick Cheney called a Mississippi electricity cooperative and ordered crews to prioritize restoring power to an oil and gas pipeline over the restoration of power to two area hospitals.
Don’t mind the fact that only one Puerto Rican hospital is considered “fully operational,” while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that 80 percent of gas stations in Puerto Rico will be operational by next Tuesday. The government response has also been desperately lacking in manpower, with only 10,000 relief workers sent to the island, compared to Katrina which ultimately utilized over 70,000 workers.
After recently passing a defense budget worth over $700 billion dollars, it is frustrating that the military is not taking a more direct role in the relief effort. One emergency management expert explained that “FEMA is thinly resourced without the military in situations like this.” It took an astounding eight days to get a three-star general to Puerto Rico to lead their relief efforts.
It is still early, but Puerto Rico may have implications on Trump’s already-weakened ability to effectively govern. In 2006, President Bush’s response to Katrina led to a drop in approval ratings that he was largely unable to recover from.
Although President Trump’s response has been disappointing for the victims of this crisis, individuals can contribute by donating to globalgiving.org, a reputable crowdfunding charity that has already raised over $3.2 million for rebuilding efforts.