Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke confronted harsh backlash after saying the Trump administration’s restoration effort in Puerto Rico is a “good news story.”
“Damn it, this is not a good news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz responded. “This is a people-are-dying story. This is a life-or-death story.”
Since Hurricane Maria slammed into the US territory as a Category four hurricane earlier this month, a lot of the island has been devastated — leaving thousands and thousands of Americans with out electrical energy and water, and restricted entry to fuel and different important provides.
Duke’s feedback weren’t the primary time the White House’s statements in regards to the restoration effort contradicted floor experiences. This week, federal officers and locals clashed on such points as medical care services, assist shipments and the supply of money.
Critics say the White House has been gradual to reply and is portraying the scenario in Puerto Rico as higher than it truly is. Here’s a snapshot of what the White House is saying in comparison with what folks there are seeing and experiencing.
Hospitals and nursing houses
White House: In Puerto Rico, 44 of 69 hospitals had been “fully operational” as of Thursday afternoon, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated.
By Thursday night time, White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert stated that 51 hospitals had met the usual of having the ability to “see, treat and admit” sufferers.
However, he clarified that the three-pronged commonplace for hospitals included many utilizing emergency diesel gasoline, which he admitted was “not necessarily an ideal condition.”
Ground Reports: Because energy and communication traces nonetheless stay out for a lot of the island, hospitals rely on diesel gasoline — already in brief provide — and have hassle contacting and coordinating affected person care.
CNN chief medical correspondent Sanjay Gupta noticed these hospitals’ struggles firsthand. At a shelter an hour outdoors of San Juan, a lady named Josefina Alvarez, who suffers from diabetes, was in a dire scenario. She had an an infection and no insulin, water or meals.
No ambulance might take her to a hospital, so Gupta and his crew volunteered to drive her to a close-by clinic.
“There are probably thousands of patients who are in similar shelters with no power, no water, no medications, no way out. There are probably thousands more who are still in their homes and haven’t even been able to get to a shelter,” he stated. “She’s just one example of what’s happening here.”
Speaking on CNN’s The Situation Room on Thursday, Gupta stated that many hospitals listed as operational had no satellite tv for pc telephones, no entry to medicines, and had been unable to confess sufferers.
“We’re seeing diesel fuel being promised for a few hours at a time as opposed to anything that’s going to be more sustainable for them. And as you might imagine, it’s very hard to run a hospital that way,” he stated. “It’s hard to take care of patients if you say, ‘Look, we have six hours of fuel left. We’re not sure if we’ll get more fuel after that.’”
Because accessible diesel gasoline was prioritized for hospitals, nursing houses had main points as properly, Mayor Cruz stated.
“Most of our nursing homes have people that have an inability to move, so they’re stuck in the 14th floor, they have no water, they have no food, they — most of them are insulin-dependent,” she stated.
Insulin-dependent sufferers are “going crazy for ice” to maintain their medical provides chilly, Cruz stated, whereas different sufferers haven’t had their scheduled dialysis or chemotherapy in days.
Delivering meals and water
White House: President Donald Trump has tweeted a number of occasions over the previous few days that meals and water are “on way,” “on site” or “delivered” to Puerto Rico.
The Federal Aviation Administration supported the restoration of companies to all eight industrial airports in Puerto Rico, FEMA stated on Friday. In addition, 5 of six FEMA-priority seaports are open or open with restrictions, the Department of Defense stated Thursday.
Ground Reports: Initially, FEMA was restricted in its capacity to ship assist due to closed or broken ports.
“We were limited by a damaged air traffic control system, we were limited by airports that weren’t operational,” FEMA administrator Brock Long stated Thursday. “We were limited by ports that weren’t operational. Now as those are coming back up, we are increasing capacity.”
In current days, meals, water and different provides have reached the ports. But due to broken infrastructure — impassable roads, non-operational seaports and airports, and an absence of communication traces — getting these provides to folks in want has proved rather more troublesome.
“We’re getting commodities to Puerto Rico,” stated Long. “The question is, how do we get it to the last mile?”
Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida stated delivering assist from ports to communities is the primary downside officers are going through.
“They have got to get that aid moving to the right places. To do that, you need to restore roads, a bare minimum of power, you need a bare minimum of communication. You need a logistical chain,” Rubio stated.
“There’s a lot of food coming in, a lot of water, a lot of medical assistance. But if that medical assistance is sitting at the port, it’s theoretically in Puerto Rico, but it’s not enough. You’ve got to get it from the port to the people who need it. And that’s the problem.”
Delivering assist to some areas shall be harder than to others. In San Lorenzo, a 45-minute-drive from San Juan, a bridge over a dashing river was destroyed by flash floods. Now residents cross the waters whereas holding onto a scavenged cable.
John Rabin, performing regional administrator of FEMA Region II, stated the company has established 11 distribution factors at numerous elements of the island. They have delivered round 1.1 million liters of water and virtually 1,000,000 meals.
Mayor Cruz, of San Juan, stated these distribution facilities “need to be much closer and need to provide a lot more.”
She drove 30 miles from San Juan to a distribution heart to select up three pallets of water and meals.
“Wouldn’t it be more logical in terms of logistical support to get 21 pallets of water and 21 pallets of food, whatever you’re going to give me, give me for a week’s worth?” she stated.
Making money accessible
White House: Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin stated Thursday that the federal authorities was performing shortly to fulfill Puerto Rico’s money scarcity. “For the last two days, we’ve been very involved in figuring out how we can get major amounts of cash to Puerto Rico. I can tell you we made two giant cash shipments,” Mnuchin stated.
Ground Reports: With electrical energy nonetheless extensively out, many retailers should not accepting bank cards, making a money infusion more and more obligatory for residents who have to buy meals, medication, fuel and different provides.
At least half of the financial institution branches in Puerto Rico are nonetheless not open, in keeping with the Association of Banks of Puerto Rico. Stand-alone ATMs — from the airport to rich neighborhoods — are out of money.
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló stated Friday that 90 financial institution branches are actually open all through the island, although CNN experiences they’re working beneath extreme restrictions.
Many individuals are ready in traces for hours to entry ATMs with no assure they’ll have the ability to withdraw money.
Tom Tarbox waited an hour in line at an ATM close to the seashore in San Juan on Wednesday in sweltering warmth. The line stretched across the FirstBank. Customers used umbrellas to protect themselves from the beating solar. It wasn’t even his financial institution, nevertheless it had money and that’s all that mattered.
Tarbox, a retiree from Connecticut who has lived in San Juan for 20 years, stated he was nervous most about working out of diesel gasoline for his generator. The lengthy queues for meals, fuel and money persuade him that the federal authorities’s response has been too little, too late.
“The feeling is that the response of the administration has been too slow in getting equipment and things down here, including cash,” Tarbox stated, with one other 15 folks in line forward of him. “There is sort of a hoarding, panic mentality.”