It’s been ten days since Hurricane Maria struck the US territory of Puerto Rico and millions remain without sufficient clean water or food.
Almost all of the Caribbean island’s power grid and the mobile phone network have been knocked out, meaning that clean water can’t be pumped to homes, toilets can’t be flushed and neither air con nor refrigerators can work without a portable generator.
And there’s no light at night unless it comes from candles, torches or paraffin lamps.
It was the worst hurricane in 85 years and killed sixteen people, but US President Donald Trump has upset many of the islanders after he claimed on Friday that the authorities’ preparation for Maria and the handling of the relief effort have been a success.
“The loss of lives is always tragic, but it’s been incredible, the results that we had with respect of loss of lives, people can’t believe how successful that has been, relatively speaking,” he said.
But the mayor of the capital San Juan quickly and vehemently disagreed. “We are dying here and I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles long,” Carmen Yulin Cruz told reporters.
Trump then hit back in a tweet saying Cruz displayed “poor leadership.”
…Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They….— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 30, 2017
Thousands of Puerto Ricans are not waiting for more aid to arrive – they’re leaving by ship as fast as they can.
Meanwhile the US military is in charge of the relief operation and is flying in supplies. They’re now also responsible for emergency reconstruction of vital services.
Colonel James DeLapp, the Army Corps of Engineers commander for Puerto Rico, told CNN that rebuilding the island’s crippled power grid was a massive undertaking.
“The closest thing we’ve had is when the Army Corps led the effort to restore Iraq’s electricity in the early stages of the Iraq war in 2003 and 2004,” he said.
And further complicating any recovery is a financial crisis marked by Puerto Rico’s record bankruptcy filing in May and the weight of $72 billion in outstanding debt.