IT HAS been three weeks since Hurricane Maria made devastating landfall in Puerto Rico. Three weeks — and 84 percent of the population is still without power. Only 63 percent has access to clean water, and just 60 percent of wastewater treatment plants are working. Food supplies are spotty, the health-care system is in crisis and people are dying. The death toll has risen to 45.
If the Americans enduring these conditions lived in Connecticut or Montana or Arkansas, would we be counseling patience? Would we be blithely accepting predictions of another month — or more — to get power restored? No. There would be unending media coverage, people would be furious — and the president of the United States certainly wouldn’t be threatening to abandon federal relief efforts.
The state of affairs would simply be seen as unacceptable, which it is. The 3.4 million American citizens who live in Puerto Rico are owed a far better response from their government than they have gotten these past three weeks.
Conditions on the island remain grim and, in some instances, have been exacerbated by the delay in getting help. Post reporters detailed an island plunged into darkness, with roads impassable, communications knocked out and the economy at a standstill. The New York Times detailed the impacts on health care, with hospitals running low on medicine, seriously ill patients going without proper treatment and an increasing risk of people getting sick — and dying — from contaminated water. The Guardian reported on food shortages, with federal emergency workers unable to meet the demand for providing meals. "We feel completely abandoned here," the mayor of Yabucoa told Post reporters.
Maria was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in nearly a century. There is no minimizing its catastrophic effects, nor the logistical challenges of getting help to an island already suffering from poor infrastructure and long-standing financial problems. But none of that excuses the federal government’s sluggish response and poor planning. Why, for example, as the Times reported, were only 82 patients sent to the hospital ship USNS Comfort over six days when there were so many more sick people in peril?
Yet, almost incredibly, President Trump on Thursday blasted out a trio of tweets seemingly trying to shame the U.S. territory for its current problems and putting its residents on notice that the federal government might pull out. So much for his promise to "be there every day" until the people of Puerto Rico are "safe and sound and secure."
It is time to stop treating the people of Puerto Rico like second-class citizens. Congress should give Puerto Rico the resources it needs. It also should exercise its oversight over the administration to demand answers on why, three weeks after disaster struck, so many Americans are still living in misery with so little hope for the future.
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