Two weeks after Hurricane Maria caused an unprecedented level of damage to Puerto Rico, a massive federal response including the deployment of more than 12,000 federal responders has helped stabilize the situation.
And while things remain extremely challenging on the ground, Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said there’s been a big improvement. Water and food supplies are being distributed to staging areas across Puerto Rico, and almost 60 hospitals are back in operation. The number of people in shelters has also decreased.
Search and rescue operations are still ongoing for the center area of the island, which has been difficult to reach. As of Oct. 3, the total death toll from hurricanes Irma and Maria is 34.
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long, who has been to Puerto Rico three times in person since the hurricanes hit the island, said making roads accessible and providing emergency power are among the top priorities.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is working with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority and the Department of Energy to restore power, which was completely wiped out.
The Department of Defense has been providing help at hospitals and patient care, including the deployment of the USNS Comfort, which has 1,000 patient beds. And the National Guard has been distributing food, water, and other supplies throughout the island.
According to FEMA, more than 65 percent of grocery and big box stores, as well as gas stations, are open again. Ten airports are now operating, allowing commercial air-traffic to resume last week.
However, challenges remain, as Puerto Rico struggles with a lack of truck drivers to deliver the goods shipped to the island. Gas and diesel also remain in short supply.
“Progress is underway for the residents of Puerto Rico,” said FEMA in a statement.
“While the catastrophic impact from Hurricanes Irma and Maria led to serious logistical challenges, we’re working closely with our federal partners and Commonwealth officials to continue to sustain lives and restore routine.”
Praise From Puerto Rican Officials
Rosselló has praised the federal response to the disaster, saying the cooperation between local and federal authorities has been crucial.
“I want to let the people of Puerto Rico and the people on the United States know that you have always responded to us,” Rosselló said during Trump’s visit to the island on Oct. 3.
“I want to personally thank you, Mr. President, because over the course of the past week you have called essentially every day to make sure we have what we need, to make sure that the resources are over here,” Rosselló said.
“We will be able to build Puerto Rico stronger than ever before. That is our commitment.”
In response to the natural disaster, Trump signed a disaster declaration that will have the federal government provide 100 percent funding for debris removal and emergency protective measures for 180 days.
During his one-day visit together with first lady Melania Trump on Oct. 3, Trump praised local and federal responders for their rescue efforts.
“Everybody around this table and everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico,” said Trump.
Congresswoman Jenniffer González-Colón (R-P.R.) said that more than 4,000 personnel belonging to the different branches of the military had been deployed before and after the first hurricane, Irma, when it hit on Sept. 6.
“They were here before, during, after the first hurricane, and they continued to stay on the island, boots on the ground. During Maria—same thing,” González-Colón said.
González-Colón said that while Puerto Rico is used to experiencing hurricanes, the scale of Maria, which was a category 5, had created an “amount of devastation that is unheard of.”
“So this is not solved yet, but for me, it is important to hear the president himself telling me, you’re not alone,” she said during a press briefing in Puerto Rico on Oct. 3.