Weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands with catastrophic winds and flooding, the federal disaster response remains glaringly slow.
More than 90 percent of Puerto Ricans still remain without power, and clean water and basic supplies are also running scarce. Even after a visit by Donald Trump weeks after Maria tore through the island, little is known about the tangible, long-term objectives in disaster relief, except the president’s apparent ability to chuck rolls of paper towels into crowds of hurricane survivors.
President Trump also said that he would “wipe out” the island’s debt in light of Maria’s destruction, but this statement was quickly scaled back by the White House. Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, told CNN said that Puerto Rico would have to “figure out how to fix the errors that it’s made for the last generation on its own finances.
Much of the infrastructure in Puerto Rico has been destroyed beyond repair because of the unfathomable strength of the hurricane. According to a University of Delaware scholar Tricia Wachtendorf in an article by The Atlantic, the destruction of the island’s built environment has turned navigating impact zones and positioning supplies into a grave challenge.
With fuel shortages, debris and damaged roads that are keeping truckers from delivering supplies to the countryside, officials on the island are finding it difficult to efficiently and safely distribute supplies to all of their people. As seen immediately after the storm, the island’s power grid also failed, ceasing communications within the island and making distributing supplies a logistical nightmare.
More than a week after Maria, President Trump finally waived the Jones Act, which requires goods shipped between U.S. ports to be transported by American vessels, but only for 10 days. Although the waiver recently expired, the White House has already announced that it does not intend to permanently exempt Puerto Rico from the act, even though recovery efforts in Puerto Rico will persist for months, if not, years.
Although the federal response to the destruction on the island has been less than sympathetic and urgent, countless individuals are taking matters into their own hands to aid the people of Puerto Rico.
New York City has been leading remarkable relief efforts to support the 3.5 million citizens of the island, collecting 23,800 cases of feminine hygiene products, 12,800 cases of diapers, 8,800 packs of batteries, 3,600 cases of baby food and 1,200 first aid kits since Hurricane Maria struck, according to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office in a Patch article. Almost 160 New York City employees from the Fire Department, NYPD and the Office of Emergency Management, among many more, are also currently in Puerto Rico to help with relief on the ground.
Mexico has also recently offered its assistance to Puerto Rico, pledging to ship 30 tons of water and mosquito repellent to the island, as well as a team of experts to help address the electrical damage caused by the storm.
Despite incessant criticism from President Trump himself, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz has been on the ground since Maria tore through the island, offering hands-on aid for the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, wading through flooded streets with megaphone in hand to distribute supplies and help rescue survivors herself.
Volunteers across various college campuses are also participating in “mapathons” to help mark a clear digital path for aid on the island, as originally reported by PBS NewsHour. Groups like American Red Cross and FEMA are using OpenStreetMap, an open-source mapping platform, to help navigate Puerto Rico amid damaged roads and buildings.
Celebrities have also been crucial megaphones in aiding hurricane relief efforts. Lin-Manuel Miranda recently orchestrated and released a Puerto Rico relief song called “Almost Like Praying,” which includes an impressive roster of artists such as Jennifer Lopez, Luis Fonsi, Marc Anthony, Rita Moreno, Gina Rodriguez, and many more. Proceeds from the song will benefit The Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Disaster Relief Fund.
The people of Puerto Rico need as much as assistance as they can possibly get. Although the recovery and rebuilding efforts will no doubt be arduous and long term, there are a plethora of ways you can make a difference.
Staying plugged into what’s happening in Puerto Rico and making noise about it on social media or other public platforms will be crucial for awareness and recovery. Demand for more action from your representatives, especially in pushing for legislative action that can contribute to recovery, such as permanently exempting Puerto Rico from the Jones Act.
According to Buzzfeed, the Puerto Rican government released a list of emergency supplies currently needed on the island, such as bottled water, canned food, towels, baby formula, first aid kits, blankets, pillows, and many more. Check out the full list here. Keep an eye out for donation drives at a location near you as well to drop these emergency items off.
The First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, created a fund called Unidos por Puerto Rico (United for Puerto Rico) to aid those in Puerto Rico affected by both Hurricane Irma and Maria. It has pledged that all of the proceeds will go toward helping survivors. The Hispanic Federation’s Unidos Disaster Relief Fund will also go toward those affected in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.