The epic disaster that left Puerto Rico devastated has few, if any, parallels in modern times.
Hurricane Maria flattened the island, leaving its 3.4 million American residents without the essential resources of daily life: water, food, electricity, communications, transportation, fuel — you name it, they don’t have it. Puerto Rico urgently, desperately needs help.
Washington bears a huge responsibility in this crisis. When a natural disaster strikes the mainland — as with the uncounted thousands left to cope with the flood waters of Hurricane Harvey — neighbors leap in to help each other. State and nearby local authorities are quick to reach out with vital assistance, including shelter for those left homeless. Trucks with federal assistance — and soldiers to maintain law and order and to help with rescue efforts — soon roll in from all directions.
Don’t expect any of that in Puerto Rico. The entire island is out of commission.
Those who have a little — food, water, etc. — share with those who have nothing, but now everyone is running out of the meager supplies they had on hand before Maria’s howling winds and beating rains arrived.
Local governments are barely functioning, if they’re up and running at all. The territory’s government can’t do much because it doesn’t have much — of anything. The island was in a state of financial crisis, its coffers empty and its infrastructure old and dilapidated, even before it was sideswiped by Hurricane Irma and then smacked dead-on by Maria.
And Puerto Rico, lest we forget, is an island. There’s no one to turn to nearby for help because it’s way out in the Caribbean, roughly one thousand miles from Miami.
The international airport in San Juan is open, but its capacity is limited. Individuals in the states who want to offer aid feel helpless. Some can’t even get in touch with relatives, much less send them something to ease their misery.
The list of needs goes on and on. Hospitals are running run out of fuel to keep generators going; when that supply is depleted, patients will die.
Think the Hollywood Hills nursing home — on a vastly greater scale. Some rural areas are cut off because the roads are blocked by fallen trees and receding waters. Those who want to help can’t get in, the residents can’t leave. Local police everywhere are exhausted. They need back-up right away,
The needs in Puerto Rico are extraordinary and the response must be urgent and all-encompassing.
Here are some priorities:
▪ Send in a constabulary force to stay as long as necessary. Appoint an experienced, energetic leader to run the show and give him or her the authority to cut through red tape to make quick and effective decisions.
▪ Provide an airdrop for isolated areas that are cut off.
▪ Bring in workers to get the power stations back up; they can generate electricity if they can get the wires connected.
▪ And, oh, yes, bring food, water and fuel. Lots of it.
▪ Create shelters for the tens of thousands — maybe hundreds of thousands — who will need a place to live for an extended period.
That’s just for openers. We’ll have more to say as the recovery progresses. Meanwhile, President Trump will visit the island on Tuesday. But right now, Puerto Rico is on its back. Its people are our fellow Americans. They need our help and there's no time to lose.