Almost a week and a half after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, about half of the island’s 3.4 million residents still lack access to clean drinking water, according to the U.S. Department of Defense, while 95 percent remain without power.
Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello noted, however, Saturday that some progress has been made. He said 51 of the island’s 60 hospitals are now open and airports and seaports are receiving shipments.
“We have 100 percent of landline telephones working now,” Rossello said, “although we still don’t have the robust telecom network … we’re only at 33 percent.”
Rossello said the island’s roads are being cleared, but there are still some communities where the hurricane’s devastation has made travel difficult.
Trucks, diesel on the way
The U.S. Defense Department said 100 trucks carrying diesel and gasoline fuel will arrive by barge in San Juan, the island’s capital and largest city, by Monday. There have been complaints that food and other necessities were not being delivered across the island because there were not enough trucks and truck drivers to make the deliveries.
Life on the island remains hard, however, with residents lining up in the sweltering heat to get gas, food and cash.
VOA’s Celia Mendoza, who is in Puerto Rico, says all store transactions are in cash because shops do not have the electricity for card transactions. There are long lines at cash machines, Mendoza reports, with customers hoping to get access to their funds before the machines’ generators are shut down when the banks close.
Trump Twitter tirade
U.S. President Donald Trump, from his golf club in New Jersey, launched a bitter Twitter tirade Saturday morning against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been critical of the Trump administration’s hurricane efforts. Cruz, whose home has been damaged in the storm, is living in a shelter with her family.
Cruz accused the Trump administration of “killing us with the inefficiency” and begged Trump to “make sure somebody is in charge that is up to the task of saving lives.”
The Republican president initiated his tweets, some of which were apparently deleted minutes later, by suggesting Cruz’s criticism was instigated by Democrats.
Trump then denounced two news organizations for what he apparently believed has been biased coverage of the recovery efforts with the ultimate aim of disparaging him.
He then reiterated he will soon get a first-hand view of the devastation on Puerto Rico and possibly in the U.S. Virgin Islands.
Trump then broadened his attack on the news media, accusing the networks of hindering recovery efforts.
It is not immediately clear if the president will meet with Mayor Cruz when he visits the island.
Later Saturday, Trump softened his tone somewhat: “Despite the Fake News Media in conjunction with the Dems, an amazing job is being done in Puerto Rico. Great people!”
Acting Homeland Security Administration Secretary Elaine Duke, meanwhile, flew over hurricane devastated Puerto Rico Friday and reassured residents the federal government understands the severity of the ongoing human catastrophe facing the U.S. territory.
“I know the people of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are suffering,” Duke told a news conference in San Juan. “We are here and we have been here to help them. We are continuing to bring additional supplies and personnel to further assist distribution efforts on the ground.”
Duke’s unannounced trip to the island came hours after Cruz ridiculed comments the Homeland Security chief made at a White House briefing Thursday, where she described the life-saving efforts of relief workers as “a good news story.”
In a widely publicized CNN interview, Cruz replied angrily, saying, “This is not a good news story. This is a people are dying’ story. This is a life or death story,”
Clearly stung by Cruz’s barb, Duke made clear that she did not consider the current conditions in Puerto Rico satisfactory.
“Yesterday I was asked if I was happy and satisfied with the recovery,” she said. I am proud of the work that’s being done. I’m proud of Americans helping Americans, friends and strangers alike. I am proud of the work DOD, (Department of Defense, FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Administration) and the territory, along with first responders are doing.
“The president and I will not be satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is freely available, schools and hospitals are fully open, and the Puerto Rican economy is working,” the secretary said.
EPA assesses Superfund sites
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency said in a statement that it has deployed assessment teams to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. ”We have begun re-assessing Superfund sites, oil sites, and chemical facilities in Puerto Rico and the USVI as part of EPA’s response to Hurricane Maria,” the agency said. It also initial assessments found the Superfund sites to have no significant damage. The agency is also working to assess the conditions of water and sewage treatment plants in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.