The Voice

View From The Voice: Puerto Rico needs help


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     Almost two weeks after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the island is still desperately struggling to recover from the destruction as the people there are begging for outside help.

     The response to those cries has received mixed reviews, especially in regard to the response from Washington D.C. Some claim that the U.S. is doing all it can, while others say the response was too little, too late. We at The Voice would like to highlight that response and dissect it to see just how effective it has been, especially when compared to Washington D.C.’s response to similar devastation in Texas and Florida.

     Hurricane Maria, like Harvey, was being tracked as it formed, so there was advanced warning that its landfall would be disastrous for Puerto Rico, which had suffered severe damage when Irma moved through on its way to Florida. Evacuations resulted in thousands of Puerto Ricans flooding airports to flee to Florida or anywhere that wasn’t affected by the devastation. Those who remained in Puerto Rico for the hurricane were in for one of the worst storms to hit the island since the 1920s. In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the island lost all of its power. Coastal towns and cities faced devastating floods, while inland residents faced raging waters from nearby creeks and streams. Dams are still threatening to overflow. Downed power lines and trees made escape and rescue efforts treacherous and, in some places, impossible. Ports were packed with debris and damaged ships, making shipping in supplies in the first few hours and days after the storm tricky. The power outages shut down every hospital in Puerto Rico, and the island has yet to see the power return to all of its medical facilities. However, with relief efforts well underway, some of these obstacles are no longer the issue.

     FEMA and military personnel, including the Army Corps of Engineers, have descended on the island in order to restore power and pass out supplies to those in need, while rescue efforts continue. But the supplies that were needed were not being shipped in immediately and  hadn’t been ready to ship until recently, partly due to international shippers fearing economic strain from the Jones Act. This old piece of economic legislation makes it impossible for international shippers to dock at more than one U.S. port.

     Because of the distance, most relief aid that would come from Europe would have needed to dock somewhere along the East Coast before going to Puerto Rico, and it was only after a massive outcry that Donald Trump finally waived the Jones Act and made it easier for international shippers to get aid to Puerto Rico. That aid is now sitting in ports awaiting drivers. Since most Puerto Rican drivers have lost their homes and their trucks, and there’s a massive fuel shortage, taking the supplies inland is proving to be a massive obstacle. This could be rectified with military vehicles, but there currently aren’t enough vehicles on the island to ship and to do the other heavy tasks needed. We at The Voice wish this were everything.

     While the Trump administration did declare at the start of the storm that all aid and resources needed would be provided to Puerto Rico, the administration spent much of the aftermath either silent or distracted by other things, such as a golf trip in New Jersey, growing tensions with North Korea, and the NFL. After facing criticism from San Juan’s mayor, Trump took to Twitter to respond, claiming that the islanders “wanted everything done for them” instead of addressing the issues on the utterly devastated island. He then blamed Democrats for the mayor’s criticisms.

     Trump has also taken jabs at Puerto Rico’s financial and infrastructure crises, which have played large roles in the level of sheer destruction on the island. Although Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, the island has been suffering from massive debt and a key lack of infrastructure updates in the areas of electricity and telecommunications. Some commentators have blamed businessmen like Trump, who, prior to his presidency, declared bankruptcy on a failed golf course, leaving the debt with Puerto Rico. The island, because of its territory status, also has no representation in the U.S. government, and with little pull, the people of the island are subject to economic devastation without any promise of relief.

     While there is certainly a logistical challenge to providing the same type of relief that was seen in Texas to Puerto Rico–although being surrounded by “big water, ocean water” is not quite as significant as it might seem–the response of the administration has certainly been underwhelming compared to what the U.S. is certainly capable of. With America having the largest military budget in the entire world and that military being one of the most advanced and best equipped as well, there should be no reason that the roads cannot be cleared. There is no reason that trucks, planes and helicopters cannot be brought to the island en masse to aid in the relief and rebuilding. There is no reason that there should have been such a lag in response to a known hurricane. And, above all, there is no reason that the lengthiest tweets by Trump would include him lashing out at the devastated and frustrated islanders and an injection of political divisiveness into a crisis.

     Puerto Rico still desperately needs help, and as they are American citizens, we at The Voice would like to see a much, much stronger response from Trump when he finally is able to visit the island to see the community he has criticized.

~The Voice

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View From The Voice: Puerto Rico needs help