OAS: A HISTORY OF CRIMES AGAINST LATIN AMERICA

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF BRAZIL NEWS AGENCY 247)

 

Hurricane Maria: The Forgotten Dying People Of Puerto Rico

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

‘We are the forgotten people’: It’s been almost six months since Hurricane Maria, and Puerto Ricans are still dying

Updated 10:32 PM ET, Thu March 15, 2018

Maunabo, Puerto Rico (CNN)Lourdes Rodriguez heard the scream early on the morning of January 6, before the sun rose and before the frogs began their chorus.

“Lourdes! Lourdes!”
She instantly recognized the voice of her father, Natalio Rodriguez Lebron, 77, a former nurse who cared for the mentally ill, people he believed society had forgotten.
She darted up the stairs.
Her father’s health had long been troubled. He had diabetes, lung disease, sleep apnea and congestive heart failure. And in the months since Hurricane Maria battered this coastal town, Lourdes watched his condition worsen. The sleep apnea machine he needed to help him breathe was useless for months because their hilltop neighborhood in Maunabo was entirely without electric power. In December, a business had donated a generator to power the machine at night, but the family struggled to afford the gasoline needed to keep it running.
As Lourdes reached the top of the stairs, she felt an uneasy stillness in the air. The sky was thick and black. No moon was visible. And the electric generator, a machine that sometimes rumbled like a car engine, had fallen eerily silent.
She swung open the living room door to find her father clutching his chest.
The machine was off. Her father appeared unable to breathe.
Natalio Rodriguez Lebron, center, is shown with his family.

Her mother, Julia “Miriam” Rodriguez, stayed with Natalio while Lourdes rushed to restart the generator, which had run out of gas, and repower the breathing machine. Her mother felt Natalio’s body go limp in her arms and then collapse to the floor, face down.
Frantic, they called 911 and tried to comfort him.
Waiting there on the floor, Julia Rodriguez told me, she felt a wind — a physical gust — leave her husband’s body and pass into her own. She said it was as if the decades they’d spent together — the moves from Puerto Rico to the mainland and back; the hours they both worked as nurses; the three children they raised — hovered in the room, a tangible, living thing, and then became part of her.
Julia Rodriguez knew then that her husband might not survive.
All these months later, it seemed the storm may have won.

* * * * *

It’s been nearly six months since Hurricane Maria.
Its howling winds, which topped 150 mph, long have dissipated. The storm that battered Puerto Rico on September 20 before hooking northward into the Atlantic is a memory.
Yet, in this US commonwealth, people are still dying in Maria’s wake.
That’s especially true of those who lack basic services like electricity.
Rodriguez died on January 6. In addition to his death, CNN identified five people who died in 2018 from causes that friends, family, doctors or funeral home directors consider to be related to Hurricane Maria and its aftermath.
It’s not possible to say with 100% certainty that a death this long after a storm was “caused” by Hurricane Maria, experts told me. But that’s beside the point. These deaths show dangerous conditions persist in Puerto Rico.
I spent several days in Maunabo, Rodriguez’s town on the southeast coast, and other areas without power, to try to understand how communities are faring all these months later.
Maunabo, Puerto Rico, is still off the grid almost six months after Maria, the mayor tells CNN.

I had been to Puerto Rico several times since the storm, reporting for CNN on topics from uncounted deaths to water outages and an “exodus” to the US mainland. In December, I drove the entire path the eye of the storm took across the island. On that route, I met a woman whose clock was stopped at 3:27 — the moment the hurricane swept through. Puerto Rico, it seemed, was an island frozen in time, doomed to relive that day again and again.
Would that still be the case after six months?
Metrics on the response to Hurricane Maria told me that might be the case, at least for some residents. So, too, did academics and others who study how we respond to hurricanes.
Puerto Rico, some of these experts said, appears to be stuck between the “emergency” and “recovery” phases of disaster response. Typically, in the United States, the emergency phase — in which people lack necessities like food, water, shelter and power — lasts for days or, at most, a few weeks, said Lori Peek, director of the Natural Hazards Center at the University of Colorado Boulder. Then comes recovery, when residents, government agencies and others start to rebuild.
“Here we are months after this storm and we are debating if we should still be sending these emergency — really emergency, and life sustaining — supports, or (should we) transition into this recovery process,” Peek said. “That is just truly breathtaking.”
It’s true that progress has been made. Tourists are coming back to San Juan, and parts of the city are humming. Casinos are open in ritzy Condado and the bomba dancers are back in Río Piedras. A month after Maria, roughly 1 million of the 3.3 million American citizens here remained without running water service. Now, nearly everyone has it.
In late December, only about a third of temporary roof requests had been met by the US Army Corps of Engineers, leaving some people sleeping in homes where it rained inside at night. Months later, nearly all those requests for professionally installed tarps have been fulfilled. Formal shelters for hurricane victims are now empty, according to federal officials.
Yet inequities remain, especially when it comes to electricity.
As of March 7, more than 10% of electric customers in Puerto Rico were still without power, according to figures reported to the US Department of Energy by the local utility. Maybe that sounds small — but it represents nearly 156,000 customers, and likely more than that number of people, since the average Puerto Rican household is about three individuals.
Also consider that figure in the context of other recent storms.
Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas on August 25. The next day, an estimated 304,000 customers were without power — yet all but about 2,600 had electricity restored in 19 days, according to data provided to CNN by the Public Utility Commission of Texas. Florida after Hurricane Irma? That storm left an estimated 6.2 million customers in Florida without electricity on September 11, according to the Florida Public Service Commission, which, like the commission in Texas, collects data from electric utilities. In a little more than two weeks, virtually all power was back.
These comparisons are, of course, imprecise. No two storms are the same in terms of intensity, needs or geography. Puerto Rico is an island and, as federal officials have said repeatedly since the storm, you can’t just drive in supplies from another state. Communications systems were down and many roads were impassible in the first weeks after the storm. The island’s power grid also was in lousy shape, by many accounts, before Hurricane Maria. Comparing that grid to Florida’s, which is the gold standard for preparedness, is somewhat unfair, said Seth Guikema, an associate professor of engineering at the University of Michigan, who studies grids and disaster response. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, he said, some Florida utilities built concrete posts and took other measures to ensure power could be restored faster after storms.
The US Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, which oversees disaster recovery, says it is doing everything possible to ensure basic services are restored to Puerto Rico.
Michael Byrne, FEMA’s federal coordinating officer for Puerto Rico, told me in an interview that Puerto Rico’s unique logistical challenges fully explain the delays. No other US disaster has presented these unique and difficult circumstances, he said, which meant FEMA had to invent a strategy for how to respond to the crisis. The unique situation here also makes comparisons between the response to Maria and responses to other storms problematic, he said.
If storm-related deaths are continuing, he said, his heart goes out to affected families. “The initial reaction is the reaction anyone would have: I’m sorry to hear that. Truly. One of the things that you don’t stop being, no matter your job, is a human being.” There are programs, he added, to help bring generators and financial assistance to storm victims, especially those who are in vital need of medical services.
The US Army Corps and FEMA say logistical issues -- including Puerto Rico's remote location -- explain power-restoration delays.

In a statement emailed to CNN this week, the US Army Corps of Engineers, which is helping with power restoration, said back-to-back 2017 disasters, the remoteness of the island and the fact that some supplies had to be manufactured for installation in Puerto Rico, slowed down work on the electric system. “Helicopters have been used to airlift poles, materials and people into remote locations to perform repair work,” the Corps said.
Yet these explanations matter little to many of those who have been living without electricity for nearly six months, and have gone without running water for much of that time.
They know another truth: The longer the wait, the more a person is at risk.

* * * * *

The family legend goes like this: The first of Natalio Rodriguez’s ancestors to arrive in Maunabo was hidden in a barrel aboard a ship from Africa. He may have arrived as a free man, they said. This much is sure: Rodriguez roots travel deep into this fertile soil. The family has been here as long as anyone can remember.
By the time Natalio Rodriguez was born in December 1940, the 11th of 12 children, much had changed in Puerto Rico — and yet little had, as well. Rodriguez grew up helping his father, Juan Ines Rodriguez Monclova, work the verdant sugar cane fields behind their home on the side of a shark-tooth mountain. This was the work of his ancestors, too. The Spanish enslaved Africans and, before that, indigenous Taino people — who gave Maunabo its name — to work in that industry.
Natalio Rodriguez and his neighbors had all those stories coursing through their veins. His original ancestor in Maunabo is said to have married a Spanish woman, which is how relatives explain the fact that some of their cousins and aunts have bright blue or green eyes, while Natalio’s and Lourdes’ eyes and skin carry the deep hues of espresso and midnight.
Lourdes Rodriguez, right, with her two children and mother, Julia "Miriam" Rodriguez.

When Rodriguez was a boy, slavery had long been abolished, of course; and the Spanish had been kicked out of Puerto Rico by a new colonial power: the United States. The US, which occupied Puerto Rico in 1898 after the Spanish-American War, granted Puerto Ricans citizenship about two decades before Rodriguez’s birth. Still, his family members and neighbors couldn’t elect their own governor until 1948. Even today, Puerto Ricans, while subject to US laws and given US aid, can’t vote for president or elect full, voting members of Congress.
Despite all that, young Rodriguez remained enchanted by American culture.
He loved Western movies and books and grew up galloping the family’s horses down from the mountains and into the valley, which was home to the town square, not far from a lighthouse and the radiant turquoise coast. His childhood nickname was “Hormiguero,” Spanish for anthill, his longtime friend, Damian Lopez, 70, told me. I laughed and asked about the origin of that name. The kid was something of a living verb, Lopez said — always moving, never still.
That restlessness would take him places his father never saw.
Some of Rodriguez’s older brothers enlisted in the US military (one lost part of his hand in the Korean War, according to Julia Rodriguez) and, as a teenager, Natalio Rodriguez tried to do the same. Unable to join the service because of a heart arrhythmia, according to his wife, he found other ways to follow in their footsteps. After one brother moved to New York — bringing home exotic northeastern foods like cod, cherries and white grapes to a family that grew avocado, grapefruit and oranges — Rodriguez decided, after high school, to move there, too. He would become a big man like his dad — 5-foot-9 and 300 pounds — and not averse to physical labor. But he began to resent helping in the sugar fields. Maunabo was, and is, desperately poor. (Fifty-six percent live below the poverty line, according to the US Census Bureau). Some of his relatives still plowed up their fields with bulls tied to oxcarts. The brother who moved away seemed so much happier, and so much richer. In the United States, Rodriguez thought, he’d have a better life, too.
So, in his late teens, Rodriguez boarded a plane for New York.
“Right after getting out of the cab, he stepped on a pile of dog s—.”
Natalio loved to tell this story, his wife, Julia, said.
“He’d go, like, ‘Wow, so this is how you all live here, dodging piles of poop in the streets!?'”
Maunabo, located in southeast Puerto Rico, is home to 11,500 people.

Julia Rodriguez grew up in Maunabo, too, just up the hill from Natalio and his family. The couple raised three children together, primarily on the US mainland.
For him, the 50 states were a place of promise and of hope — a place of purpose and duty.
Still, strangely, that first New York impression — the muck on the street — stuck with him, too.
He never felt fully settled, his wife told me.
He yearned for home.
In 2009, he and Julia finally resettled in Maunabo.

* * * * *

“Look,” says Luis Lafuente, Maunabo’s vice-mayor.
He points at a perfectly circular hole extending from the roof of city hall.
“That’s where the clock used to be.”
It was busted by Hurricane Maria.
Crabbing and fishing are popular in Maunabo. The town hosts an annual crab festival.

Time hasn’t just stopped in this town, which is at the southeast corner of Puerto Rico, near where Maria delivered its first punches. After the storm, it’s almost irrelevant. On this day, March 9, Lafuente tells me exactly 0% of the area’s 11,500 residents have been reconnected to the electric grid — the same as the day Hurricane Maria struck. Between 35% and 50% of residents do have electricity, he said, from three emergency generators installed on December 23 by the US government. But those generators are prone to failure, he said, and don’t reach mountain communities. (The Army Corps said the alleged “failures” result from generator switch-overs, not from problems with the equipment. The Puerto Rican power authority — PREPA — told CNN 37% of customers in Maunabo had power as of March 13, but did not specify the source of that electricity.)
At dusk, those mountains turn to charcoal silhouettes. Few lights shine. Only the lucky and the wealthy can afford personal generators.
We drive Lafuente’s Jeep Renegade around the town where he’s spent his life. Parts of it are unrecognizable to him. Playgrounds are twisted. A truck barn turned to scrap metal. Power lines are draped over posts like wet noodles. Some electric posts are so off-kilter, they look like they’re doing pushups.
The hospital had to be relocated to another municipal building, which most recently had been home to emergency management workers and police. Those officers and workers, in turn, had to move into a public school that closed before the storm. The hospital still has a sign that says “Emergencia 24 Horas,” indicating the emergency room never closes. The reconfigured hospital, however, opens at 7 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. Many of those who require emergency assistance earlier or later than that have to drive through an unlit mountain tunnel — it feels like something out of “The Walking Dead” — to seek medical help.
Maunabo’s five schools reopened in late November. But students leave class at 12:30 p.m. because there’s no power. A school principal I met told me she drives to other towns to make photocopies so students can take tests. Teachers assign very little homework, she says, because the students are so overwhelmed already.
We stop by the lighthouse, perhaps the most iconic site in Maunabo, to find that its searchlight and glass have been shattered by Maria. The Coast Guard hadn’t used it since the 1990s, anyway, according to Wanda Marín Rivera, board president of the town’s cultural center. But Lafuente and others had hoped tourism might revive the town, with the lighthouse as a destination, since sugar cane, plantains and crab fishing haven’t been providing stable work. (Maunabo became known as a hub for crab fishing. Crab images are stamped into the sidewalks and painted on walls; a crab statue sits in front of the baseball stadium, which was heavily damaged, and a smaller one perches on the mayor’s desk).
Despite the state of things, Lafuente says Maunabo will improve. Tourists will come. Industry will pick back up. Already, he says, crabbers are setting traps by flashlight at night.
“The people of Maunabo are very motivated and anxious to grow and make the town even better than it was before,” he tells me. “We will rise again. We are rising.”

* * * * *

At first, the mountain protected them.
The day Maria hit, Natalio Rodriguez huddled in a small bathroom with his wife, his daughter Lourdes, her two children, and, nearby, Natalio’s elderly sister. “We were crammed like tuna in a can,” Lourdes Rodriguez recalled. Water poured under the door. Natalio told everyone to stay calm, Lourdes told me. Meanwhile, she said, the house “shook like Jell-O.”
Still, they survived. Most of the house did, too. The hillside, which had raised so many of their ancestors and grown so many of their crops, sheltered them from the worst of it.
Julia Rodriguez has been without electric power service since Maria hit on September 20.

It was after Maria that the real danger began.
The power was out. Water, too. Food was scarce. For several days, the winding, steep-pitched road to their mountain home was blocked, Lourdes said. It was a week before she was able to wait in hourslong lines for gasoline and get her car to a hill in a neighboring city, Caguas, where she could call their many relatives on the mainland to say they had outlasted the hurricane. Communications systems in Maunabo remained essentially inoperable for months, she told me. Island-wide, according to Puerto Rico government data, only 25% of cell towers were functional by October 20.
It was in these isolated circumstances that Natalio Rodriguez’s medical conditions began to worsen. The labored breathing was especially troubling for his wife and daughter. The sleep apnea machine he used at night to get oxygen into his lungs wasn’t working without electricity. That meant he and his wife could not rest, much less sleep. He paced the house at night and walked the neighborhood by day. In desperation, the family made cardboard fans for him to use to try to move air around his face. No one thought it would help him breathe, really, but it was something.
“All of a sudden he became a quiet person. He was a talker. Pepito enjoyed long conversations,” Julia Rodriguez said, using Natalio’s family nickname. “He could spend hours and hours talking. But then (after the storm) he didn’t speak much.”
The family worried also about the insulin he used for diabetes. It required refrigeration. They had no working refrigerator without power. And ice was difficult to come by.
What they really needed, of course, was electricity.
On November 17, Maunabo plaza and city hall got power from a small generator — purchased for $35,000 by the municipality, according to the mayor, Jorge Márquez. From their home in the mountains, Lourdes Rodriguez said, the family could see a faint glow. It looked like the town downhill was on another planet.
About a month later, the family received a small power inverter, Lourdes Rodriguez said. It ran for only two or three hours before running out of fuel, she said.
A bigger generator was donated later, but the family had trouble affording the gasoline needed to run it, she told me. The fuel alone cost them $60 per week while her father was alive, Lourdes Rodriguez said. Plus, there were filters, oil and repairs.
When the machine was on, they said, Natalio calmed some.
But they could not keep it going.

* * * * *

Some of them died during the storm.
A mudslide in Utuado, Puerto Rico, killed two “bedridden” sisters. Another person drowned in Toa Baja. But the aftermath of Hurricane Maria appears to have been most deadly.
Hurricane debris is piled up at a temporary dump in March in Maunabo.

More than 1,000 “excess deaths” occurred after the storm, in September and October 2017, than during the same timeframe in 2016 and 2015, according to Alexis Santos, a professor at Penn State University who analyzed Puerto Rican government mortality statistics.
That doesn’t tell you 1,000 people certainly died directly because of Hurricane Maria. But it does indicate an unusual number of people were dying — and well into October.
The only difference, Santos said, was the hurricane.
In November, I put together a CNN team to survey the funeral homes in Puerto Rico. We were only able to reach about half, but those directors and other staff members told us they had seen at least 499 deaths they considered to be hurricane related, based primarily on their conversations with family members. We then documented the deaths of several uncounted people who died in the weeks after the hurricane, not only the day the storm hit. They included an older man in Cayey who died in a fire set by a lantern he wouldn’t have been using if he’d had electricity; a man in Canóvanas who committed suicide in the storm’s aftermath; and a woman in Corozal who lacked access to medical treatment. (Two deaths we highlighted were later added to the Puerto Rico government’s list of official hurricane-related deaths).
Still, I didn’t expect deaths would continue into 2018.
It’s impossible to use statistics to prove that they are, because the Puerto Rican Demographic Registry has not released data for this year. (CNN and Puerto Rico’s Centro de Periodismo Investigativo are suing that agency for access to death records). Trends suggest the aggregate loss of life in Puerto Rico is slowing and may have normalized, Santos told me.
Still, I was able to document several deaths that occurred this year and appear related to Maria’s frantic aftermath.
Several of the deaths I researched occurred in Maunabo.
Braulio Salinas Santiago, 71, died of an apparent heart attack in the parking lot of Maunabo’s makeshift hospital on January 18, according to his wife, Margarita Baerga Diaz. It was about 5 a.m., she said, before the hospital, which operated 24-7 before the hurricane, had opened.
Similarly, Fulgencio Velazquez Chevalier died on February 20 in the car of his wife, Litza Rodriguez Figueroa. The 50-year-old suffered depression and intense anxiety after the storm, according to Rodriguez Figueroa, who is a nurse. She believes that stress, along with a related increased smoking, contributed to her husband’s cardiac arrest. When she drove by the closed Maunabo hospital, she told me, Velazquez was still alive.
Carmen Rodriguez Martinez died on January 25 at age 71.
Her doctor, Arturo Torres Borges, wrote two words on the death certificate in a spot reserved for circumstances that may have contributed to the death: “Huracán Maria.”
The causes of death included respiratory failure and heart disease.
Héctor Pedraza, left, lost his mother -- Herminio Trinidad's wife -- when she died in February in the aftermath of Maria.

Rodriguez Martinez required an oxygen machine to breathe, according to her daughter, Iris Janette de Jesus Rodriguez, 54. They still didn’t have electricity from the grid when I visited in late February. A generator hadn’t been enough, she said.
In Corozal, farther into the mountains, Victor Manuel Belen Santiago wept as he told me that his mother, Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, had saved his life by helping him kick drug addiction.
Their home was destroyed by the storm, and Belen Santiago rebuilt it by hand, puzzling scraps of the roof and walls together like a reassembled house of cards. But he couldn’t restore the power his mother needed to run an oxygen machine. She died on February 13, he said, after getting fluid in her lungs that could not be cleared. Her death certificate lists organ failure and a bacterial infection among the causes of death, along with chronic liver disease.
After the loss, Belen Santiago said he contemplated suicide.
His beloved mother was gone. He had no job — no prospect for a job after the debt crisis, which struck Puerto Rico before the hurricane. It was unclear if life ever would feel safe again.
“We are the forgotten people,” he said. “It’s like we don’t exist.”

* * * * *

The morning of January 5 started like so many others, with a tap-tap-tap of her father’s cane on the second-story patio — Natalio Rodriguez’s way of waking his daughter up for the day.
Lourdes Rodriguez rolled her eyes playfully and walked upstairs to see what he wanted this time. She and her two children, ages 13 and 8, had been sleeping on twin beds in a room downstairs since the storm. The roof of a new home they had been building was torn off by Maria.
She would awake to her father’s screams the following night, but this day now occupies a different territory in her memory. She considers it one of the best days of her life.
Her father seemed so healthy, so alive.
He wanted to go everywhere that day, see everything. He carried his cane with him while visiting his sister, a nun, in Ponce, a city on the south coast. But he kept it in his elbow crease — more ornament than crutch. At an ice cream shop, he pretended to be a clueless American tourist — using affected Spanish, asking to see tourist attractions on the other side of the island. The store’s workers laughed when he broke the gag, Lourdes Rodriguez said. He ordered his favorite flavor: passion fruit with pineapple. That night, they ate seafood at a restaurant near the beach.
In March, power lines were still twisted and broken in southeastern Puerto Rico.

Now, Lourdes Rodriguez wonders why that day was different.
Maybe it was the upcoming holiday? January 6 is Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico, or Epiphany, when Christians commemorate the arrival of wise men visiting the infant Jesus.
Her father had been talking about it for some time, telling her children to prepare their best clothes (the truth was that most of their clothing had been donated after the storm) so they could go to a pig roast in a neighboring community. In years past, they’d gathered up guitars, pots and sticks and gone caroling up and down the hillside — a Puerto Rican parranda — growing the party as they visited one house and then the next, offering food and drinks and collecting stories.
Maybe he was living in anticipation of that day?
Or maybe this day was his way of saying goodbye.

* * * * *

What’s taking so long?
That question nagged at me as I reported on Puerto Rico’s ongoing electrical outages. And it’s a question that clearly haunts many Puerto Ricans.
Experts offered some theories.
“They’re Americans but they’re not represented in Congress,” said Dr. Irwin Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University in New York. That means there are few political repercussions for a botched disaster response, he said, and few advocates for funding. “It really gets down to money and poverty and politics.”
“It’s unconscionable and unreasonable that it has taken so long” to restore power, he said. “You have to ask yourself, ‘why is that?’ It’s money and politics, the common denominator for so many things. … Can you imagine no (electric) power in Beaumont or Port Arthur or Rockport, Texas, for this amount of time? I don’t care what kind of disaster it was. You would never see this.”
Byrne, the FEMA official, said this disaster has been adequately funded and the federal government is responding to the crisis in Puerto Rico in the same way it would in the 50 states. “We’re not leaving,” he said. “We’re here until we take care of all of the requirements that are needed.”
As of March 15, FEMA had spent $1.1 billion in Puerto Rico; $1.6 billion in Texas; and $993 million in Florida for individual assistance following the fall 2017 hurricanes. “That’s the initial, quickest payment to individual citizens for immediate needs, but the real cost is in long-term recovery dollars for infrastructure projects, like buildings, roads and other public facilities,” which is not included in those figures, said Chris Currie, director of emergency management issues at the US Government Accountability Office.
Congressional appropriations for disaster response and recovery in recent months are not always itemized by storm, he said, making it difficult to say which hurricanes ultimately will be given the most federal funding. An estimated $23.2 billion has been appropriated specifically for Puerto Rico, according to The Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration estimates Maria caused $90 billion in damages; Harvey, $125 billion; and Irma, $50 billion.
Regardless of financing, the relative slowness of the recovery in Puerto Rico is seen by some people here as dehumanizing.
Life is returning to parts of San Juan, the capital, but hurricane damage remains.

In a way, Maria has revealed the ugly colonial relationship between the island and the United States, said Silvia Álvarez Curbelo, a historian and director of the research center at the University of Puerto Rico’s school of communications.
“This raw nerve of colonialism comes creeping in in every conversation” these days, she told me. “It’s this feeling of subordination. The people — common people — have no way (to respond) except to wait. Wait for this letter. Wait to see if FEMA comes to town. Wait to see if the federal government comes (though) with the money they told us they would give us for recovery.”
Such frustrations reached a boiling point in the past.
There were plenty of other factors at play, but Spain’s failure to address a humanitarian and economic crisis after an 1867 hurricane in Puerto Rico “provided the context for the first political movement for independence on the island,” Stuart Schwartz, a Yale history professor, writes in “Sea of Storms.”
The uprising, however, was “crushed immediately,” said Álvarez Curbelo, from the University of Puerto Rico. Nothing like that ever would be tried today, she said. While Puerto Ricans have worked hard to create a national cultural identity, and while the idea of independence was popular decades ago, few Puerto Ricans in recent years have supported political independence from the United States, according to Florida International University anthropologist Jorge Duany.
If anything, Álvarez Curbelo expects Puerto Rico to sink further into “political paralysis” and become more US-dependent after Maria.
She doesn’t see the United States granting Puerto Rico full rights as the 51st state, a move that likely would require the approval of Congress. Remember, she said, this storm follows a massive debt crisis in which the island’s government declared bankruptcy. What does Puerto Rico have to offer the United States now? A fiscal oversight board, appointed by the US President, is steering austerity measures. Meanwhile, Puerto Ricans have been taught, generation after generation, she said, to believe that they cannot survive without the help of a colonial power.
“I’m not a pessimistic person,” she told me. “I’m a historian. I tend to be sober. I watch the long trends. But I don’t see the light — in the total sense of the word ‘light.’ The thing about power is it’s a metaphor for the island. The fragility of the energy system — of the power system — is the perfect metaphor for our condition: The light comes and goes. There is no sense of future.”

* * * * *

The ambulance arrived at 2:18 a.m. on January 6, records show.
It was too late.
Natalio Rodriguez Lebron died at 1:23 a.m.
According to the death certificate, Rodriguez’s death was caused by chronic lung disease, hypertension and diabetes. In the notes on that document, a doctor from the Puerto Rico Bureau of Forensic Sciences also mentioned that he was a smoker and obese.
That bureau, in San Juan, is the only laboratory in Puerto Rico authorized to classify deaths as hurricane-related. In the months after Maria, the office has come under criticism, including from CNN, for possibly missing dozens if not hundreds of “indirect” hurricane deaths.
The US government installed three emergency generators in Maunabo to try to re-electrify the town.

The official death toll has stood at 64 since early December.
In February, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló announced Puerto Rico had enlisted the help of George Washington University to study the mortality that followed Hurricane Maria. That analysis, due out in coming months, will focus on deaths from September through February.
To date, Natalio Rodriguez’s death has not been classified as hurricane-related. Puerto Rico’s Department of Public Safety, which oversees the forensics bureau, did not respond to repeat requests for comment on his death and others in this story.
Rodriguez’s family believes his death was related to Hurricane Maria. His doctor, Pedro Lopez Lopez, shares that view. Rodriguez’s health deteriorated in the conditions Maria left behind, he told me. He saw Natalio about two weeks before his death; and he was “stable” then, he said.
The body was not delivered to the forensics office until 2:38 the following afternoon, a time that forensics documents confirm. By afternoon, the body had started to decompose. The family was told it would be impossible to have an open-casket service, as is the norm in Puerto Rico.
The closed casket was the hardest part of the funeral, a longtime friend told me.
“It was terrible,” Damian Lopez said. “If you love someone, you’d like to see him for one last time.”
There was also the matter of the expense.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency manages a program that can cover some funeral expenses for eligible families after hurricanes. But those deaths typically must be certified as hurricane-related in order to qualify.
The Rodriguez family already put $4,000 toward his funeral, a receipt shows.
They still owe $1,115.
In December, FEMA did grant the family $4,000 for home repairs and $3,000 to replace household items that were damaged in Maria, Lourdes Rodriguez said. Julia Rodriguez told me friends and relatives tried to offer the family money after the storm but that her husband turned away the help. He was a proud person, she said, and generous. He also knew that everyone in the community was suffering.

* * * * *

People will keep dying until power is restored.
That’s the stark assessment Arturo Torres Borges shared with my colleagues Leyla Santiago and Khushbu Shah, who tipped me off to the possibility of continued deaths in Maunabo. Torres is the medical doctor who wrote “Huracán Maria” on the death certificate of a local woman.
Natalio Rodriguez’s doctor puts it this way: “This is a public health crisis.” I met plenty of people at risk in Maunabo.
Some are so sick of the situation they try to laugh it off.
Zoraida Santiago Torres, 58, died February 13. Her family members believe a lack of electric power contributed to her death.

Across the street from Litza Rodriguez Figueroa, whose husband died in February, lives Ana Ramos Davila, a 74-year-old who will insist you drink her bottled water and then ask if you have any cute gringo friends who would drink Coors Light and play dominoes with her.
That’s the dream! she said — gringos, Coors and dominoes.
Post-Maria has included little of that.
“Christ! When is this going to be over?” she said of the storm. “I’ve spent $100 or more just on bags of ice” to try to keep food cool without power. “No one is helping me, my dear.”
“I already told my psychologist if you get a call that I took my life, don’t be amazed,” she said, serious. “I’m so tired of this — looking for supplies, finding water, lighting candles. I’m so tired.”
A few houses up the street, I met David Torres and Juanita Guzman, who were having their home repainted. Torres showed me a breathing machine he’s supposed to use at night but doesn’t, he said, because it requires a steady power source and could short circuit without one. He has a small generator — “I use it to turn on one light and one fan; if I turn on the light, I have to turn off the fan.” It doesn’t provide steady enough power to run the machine, he said.
“I need my oxygen mask. One of these days my wife is going to wake up and find me dead by her side,” he said. “She told me that in the night she hears me having trouble breathing.”
“If it’s my time to die, I’ll die,” he said, laughing. “There’s nothing I can do.”
Experts say post-storm stress and depression can be deadly.
Poverty exacerbates the risks, said Redlener, from Columbia University.
The way people interpret a disaster matters, too. If they believe the disaster is simply weather-related rather than manmade, they’re more likely to accept it, said Peek, from the University of Colorado. What she fears is that Puerto Ricans are struggling because of the human response to the hurricane.
“It’s like the despair effect,” she said. “People who feel forgotten and neglected — they may suffer negative mental health effects.”
Up the hill from the Rodriguez family live Miguel Amaro Leon, 79, and Maria Morales Ortiz, 76. They welcomed me onto their outdoor patio just as the sun was setting. A generator roared behind our conversation as they told me how hard it’s been to keep the thing running.
“It’s been really difficult because we have to pay for the gas,” Amaro Leon said. “We only use the generator three or four hours daily. If not, we would have to spend more money.”
Can they keep their insulin cold?
“More or less.”
“We try to eat food that doesn’t need to be in the refrigerator.”
As we talked, the generator ran out of gas.
Frogs chirped in the night.
“Things are getting better little by little,” Amaro Leon said. “We just need power.”

* * * * *

On my last evening in Maunabo, Lourdes Rodriguez took me to see her father’s grave. It’s in a cemetery in the valley, not far from the town plaza. Looking across the property, you can see the foggy mountains in the distance where so many of Lourdes’ relatives cut sugar cane and plowed the earth, first under the rule of the Spanish and now the United States commonwealth.
Natalio "Pepito" Rodriguez Lebron died on January 6.

Tears streamed down her cheeks.
Her father’s family nickname — “Pepito” — was written by hand in wet cement.
The family hasn’t been able to pay for a headstone.
“I can’t fix it,” she said, sobbing. “It’s hard for me to see it that way.”
Álvarez Curbelo, the professor at the University of Puerto Rico, told me earlier that she wished Hurricane Maria’s dead could speak. That way they would not be ignored.
I asked Lourdes what she thought her father would say if he could talk with us now.
“He would tell us to keep calm,” she said, somber. “That was always his saying: ‘Take it one day at a time.’ Don’t think about the next week or the next month.
“Take it one day at a time.”

OUTRAGEOUS: More than 1,000 deaths after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, 86 in Texas after Harvey

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF DAILY KOS.COM)

 

UTUADO, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 05: Daniel Braithwaite prepares to catch a box of M.R.E.'s as helps U.S. Army 1st Special Forces Command soldiers as they deliver food and water to people after Hurricane Maria swept through the island on October 5, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. The neighborhood was cut off from help for about 2 weeks and there is still a need for basic life necessities after the category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Over 1,000 (one thousand!) people have died in Puerto Rico (above the average death rate) in the first three months after Hurricane Maria (through November).  So far we only have data for the first three months—September, October and November.   There is no information on the causes of death so far but Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism has sued the government for the cause of death data.

Even in November, the latest month for which we have data,  there were still 115 more deaths than usual.  Although we don’t yet know the causes of these deaths, is there any doubt that the government’s poor response to the devastation played a major role?  The lack of shelter, drinking water, food, electricity and adequate medical care, I’m sure have all played a roll.  The “official” death toll of course has stayed at 62.

Keep in mind that these deaths, over and above the usual number of deaths for the time of year, occurred even though the population was shrinking due to outmigration to the mainland.

The total number of deaths above average in September, October and November was 1,230, according to Alexis Santos, a demographer at Pennsylvania State University who obtained the data from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics and conducted an analysis that he released to the Los Angeles Times this week.

Element removed

Of those deaths, 491 occurred in September and 584 in October — figures very close to estimates Santos published late last year based on more limited data.

The new analysis shows the higher death rate continued into November, the most recent month for which he obtained figures, with 155 more than average

www.latimes.com/…

Keep in mind that these death “overages” occurred despite the overall shrinking of the population.

@#$&*%#$&*

In Texas meanwhile, with a much larger population,

Hurricane Harvey, for example, killed about 60 people in the Houston area and then another 26 due to “unsafe or unhealthy conditions” related to the loss or disruption of services such as utilities, transportation and medical care. Nobody was still dying a month later.

www.motherjones.com/…

Is this any way to treat US citizens?!?

This administration has blood on its hands!

These ‘Shithole Countries’ Have a Message for President Trump

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME NEWS AND THE WASHINGTON POST)

(DONALD IS ‘THE SHITHOLE’ IN CHIEF)

 

By NASH JENKINS

Updated: January 12, 2018 11:45 AM ET

President Donald Trump reportedly singled out Haiti, El Salvador and parts of Africa as “shithole countries” during a rant about immigration Thursday. Those places aren’t happy

Trump’s comments came during a meeting with lawmakers at the White House held to reach a bipartisan immigration deal, according to the Washington Postwhich broke the news. Sources familiar with the meeting told the Post that the president was amenable to more immigrants from Norway and Asia, whom he says help the country economically, but wondered aloud “why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”

According to the Post, Trump also said, “Why do we need more Haitians? Take them out.”

On Friday morning Trump posted a series of tweets about the immigration deal in which he appeared to deny he said “shithole countries.”

“The language used by me at the DACA meeting was tough, but this was not the language used. What was really tough was the outlandish proposal made – a big setback for DACA!” he wrote.

In a second tweet, sent around two hours after the first, Trump said that he “never said anything derogatory about Haitians other than Haiti is, obviously, a very poor and troubled country” and that he never uttered the phrase “take them out.”

Trump also claimed that the accusation was “made up” by members of the Democratic Party. “I have a wonderful relationship with Haitians,” he added. “Probably should record future meetings – unfortunately, no trust!”

However, the White House on Thursday did not deny the Post’s report about Trump’s language.

A spokesman for the United Nations said Friday that Trump’s reported words were racist.

“There is no other word one can use but ‘racist’… This isn’t just a story about vulgar language, it’s about opening the door to humanity’s worst side, about validating and encouraging racism and xenophobia,” United Nations human rights spokesman Rupert Colville said. “You cannot dismiss entire countries and continents as ‘shitholes’, whose entire populations, who are not white, are therefore not welcome.”

Here’s how Trump’s alleged “shithole countries” are responding to the remarks:

Haiti

CBS News reports that the Haitian government promptly summoned charge d’affairs Robin Diallo, the top U.S. diplomat in the country, to respond to the comments.

Former Haitian Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe tweeted, “SHAME ON TRUMP! The world is witnessing a new low today with this #ShitholeNations remark! totally unacceptable! uncalled for moreover it shows a lack a respect and IGNORANCE never seen before in the recent history of the US by any President! Enough is enough!!”

The Haitian government said in a statement “these insulting and reprehensible statements in no way reflect the virtues of wisdom, restraint and discernment that must be cultivated by any high political authority,” according to the Associated Press, adding that the comment “reflects a totally erroneous and racist view of the Haitian community and its contribution to the United States.”

Other Haitians took to social media to share pictures of their nation’s beautiful beaches to make a point about the president’s alleged remarks.

El Salvador

Hugo Martinez, El Salvador’s foreign minister, tweeted calling on the U.S. government to confirm or deny Trump’s statements. In subsequent tweets, he noted that a number of individuals who helped rebuild New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina were from El Salvador and saying that he “feels proud to be Salvadoran.”

Jean Manes, the U.S. envoy to El Salvador, tweeted that the United States “values the friendship and the relationship with the Salvadoran people.” Manes added that she has had “the privilege to travel around this beautiful country and meet thousands of Salvadorans,” and that it is “an honor” to live and work there.”

African Union

The African Union responded to the reported remarks by pointing out many Africans arrived in the U.S. as slaves.

“Given the historical reality of how many Africans arrived in the United States as slaves, this statement flies in the face of all accepted behavior and practice,” Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson for the 55-nation African Union, told the Associated Press. “This is particularly surprising as the United States of America remains a global example of how migration gave birth to a nation built on strong values of diversity and opportunity.”

Leanne Manas, a news anchor for the South African Broadcasting Corporation, tweeted Friday morning, “Good morning from the greatest most beautiful “shithole country” in the world!!!”

Somali information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman told CNN, “If it’s real, it doesn’t need a response. Those comments do not deserve a response.”

Mmusi Maimane, the leader of South Africa’s opposition Democratic Alliance party, described Trump’s comments as “abhorrent” on Twitter. His tweet continued: “He confirms a patronizing view of Africa and promotes a racist agenda. Africa/U.S. relations will take strain from this, with a leader who has failed to reconcile humanity. The hatred of Obama’s roots now extends to an entire continent.”

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NRA Condemns U.S. Virgin Island Firearm Confiscation Plan

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NRA-ILA)

 

NRA Condemns U.S. Virgin Island Firearm Confiscation Plan

TUESDAY, SEPTEMBER 5, 2017

NRA Condemns U.S. Virgin Island Firearm Confiscation Plan

FAIRFAX, Va. – The National Rifle Association on Tuesday announced its strong opposition to the order signed by U.S. Virgin Islands Governor Kenneth Mapp allowing the government to seize personal firearms and ammunition ahead of Hurricane Irma. The NRA is prepared to engage the legal system to halt the unconstitutional order. 

“People need the ability to protect themselves during times of natural disaster,” said Chris W. Cox, executive director, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. “This dangerous order violates the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens and puts their lives at risk.” 

After Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin instituted a similar order and began confiscating legally owned and possessed firearms. The NRA intervened in federal court and was able to halt the confiscations and obtain an order requiring the return of the seized firearms. The organization then backed federal legislation to prohibit the confiscation of legal firearms from law-abiding citizens during states of emergency. In 2006, President George W. Bush signed this legislation into law.  

“When 911 is non-existent and law enforcement personnel are overwhelmed with search-and-rescue missions and other emergency duties, law-abiding American citizens must be able to protect their families and loved ones. The NRA is prepared to pursue legal action to halt Gov. Mapp’s dangerous and unconstitutional order,” concluded Cox.


Established in 1871, the National Rifle Association is America’s oldest civil rights and sportsmen’s group. More than five million members strong, NRA continues to uphold the Second Amendment and advocates enforcement of existing laws against violent offenders to reduce crime. The Association remains the nation’s leader in firearm education and training for law-abiding gun owners, law enforcement, and the armed services. Be sure to follow the NRA on Facebook at NRA on Facebook and Twitter @NRA.

 

Puerto Rico in the Last 24 Hours (PHOTOS)-(Everything Is Great Mr. Trump)

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WEATHER CHANNEL)

 

Puerto Rico in the Last 24 Hours (PHOTOS)

Oct 20 2017 12:00 AM EDT
weather.com

A home in the village of Juncos, Puerto Rico, is damaged on Thursday, October 19, 2017, as if the storm has just passed. (Teresa Canino/GFR Media/AP Photo)

A month after Hurricane Maria made its catastrophic landfall in Puerto Rico, 1 million Americans are still without running water, and 3 million are without power. The U.S. territory has reported 48 deaths, but some sources say the death toll could be as high as 450. The destruction in many locations looks as if the storm has just occurred.

Below are images of how Puerto Rico looked in the last 24 hours, four weeks after the Category 4 storm slammed into the island.

A man bathes with water funneled with pipes from a mountain stream, after filling barrels of water for his home, nearly one month after Hurricane Maria struck on October 19, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico is suffering shortages of food and water in areas with only 21.6 percent of grid electricity and 71.58 percent of running water restored. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, swept through. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Mourners carry the casket of Wilfredo Torres Rivera, 58, who died October 13 after jumping off a bridge into a lake, three weeks after Hurricane Maria, on October 19, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Utuado was one of the hardest hit areas on the island and remains largely without grid electricity or running water. Wilfredo’s family said he suffered from depression and schizophrenia and was caring for his 92-year-old mother in a home without electricity or water in the aftermath of Maria. They believe he did not have the mental and emotional tools to manage the challenges of the storm’s aftermath. The family was concerned and brought Wilfredo to a doctor shortly before his death but they say he was not provided with adequate care or counseling. While the government has ruled his death a suicide, the family believes his death should be classified as a death caused by Hurricane Maria. The official death toll of Hurricane Maria is 48 yet critics believe the actual death toll may be far higher. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Antonio Bonilla, a 60 year old resident of the neighborhood of La Hormiga in Juncos, Puerto Rico, walks among the damage on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Teresa Canino/GFR Media/AP Photo)

Mother Anais Rivera (right) stands with her three children as a friend (left) assists as they bathe and wash clothes with water funneled from a mountain stream, nearly one month after Hurricane Maria struck, on October 19, 2017 in Utuado, Puerto Rico. Rivera said they have no running water or electricity in their home and she visits the location to bathe, wash clothes and collect water for use at home. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

A supermarket is void of any supplies in the Puerto Rican capital of San Juan, on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Instagram/@lleillei)

Damaged and abandoned belongings pile up along a road in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico, on Thursday, October 19, 2017. (Twitter/@camillecardona4)

Debris remains outside a home in Comerío, Puerto Rico, a month after Hurricane Maria. (Instagram/@tarasummers)

Jerry Cruz Calderón is photographed in his home in the sector La Cuesta in Junco, Puerto Rico, on October 19, 2017, a month after Hurricane Maria hit the island. (Teresa Canino/GFR Media/AP Photo)

 

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

Energy Company In Hot Water After Trump-Like Twitter Spat With a Puerto Rico Mayor

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF TIME.COM)

 

This Energy Company Is In Hot Water After a Trump-Like Twitter Spat With a Puerto Rico Mayor

12:01 PM ET

Looking at President Trump, you might think the rules of politics have changed. After Hurricane Maria, he attacked the mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico, saying she had shown “poor leadership” and was only criticizing federal aid efforts because she’d been told to by Democrats.

…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….

The tweet did not go over well — by one measure, it was the third least-popular tweet of his presidency. But Trump never backed down, continuing his attacks on the mayor and other “politically motivated ingrates” until the news cycle had moved on.

One energy company has learned that the old rules still apply, however.

After San Juan Mayor Cermen Yulín Cruz asked for more transparency on Whitefish Energy, a small company based in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown that received a $300 million contract to restore power to the island, it fought back — on Twitter.

First, the company said that it shared her frustrations with the slow pace of progress but felt her comments were “misplaced.” Yulín Cruz then responded, tweetingthat she is not the only person who has raised questions.

“What is it about women having an opinion that irritates some?” she wrote.

The company fired back: “We’ve got 44 linemen rebuilding power lines in your city & 40 more men just arrived. Do you want us to send them back or keep working?”

This exchange was so Trumpy the President himself could have drafted it. Facing criticism, the company doubled down, a common strategy for the commander in chief. When a question was raised about sexism, it responded by using variants on the word “men” twice.

And that’s where the comparison with Trump ends. After the company faced a barrage of criticism, the governor of Puerto Rico asked an inspector general to look into how it got the contract and said there would be “hell to pay.” Congressional Democrats sent their own letter.

“Whitefish is primarily financed by a private equity firm that is run by a contributor to the presidential campaign of Donald Trump. We’re concerned that Whitefish might have overstated its connections with the Trump administration to obtain the contract,” eight Democratic lawmakers wrote in another letter to the Interior Department’s inspector general.

A copy of the company’s contract leaked which appeared to show that the government cannot audit the company’s labor costs or profits.

$332.41 per person for accommodations *each day*

$79.82 per person for food *each day* pic.twitter.com/jX51fRDZWf

Whitefish contract states, “In no event shall [government bodies] have the right to audit or review the cost and profit elements.” Wow. pic.twitter.com/dIyQXb6AK0

View image on Twitter

The Federal Emergency Management Administration even weighed in, saying after an initial review it “has not confirmed whether the contract prices are reasonable.”

In short, following Trump’s playbook has already landed Whitefish in a lot of hot water, and things are just getting started, which is why the company has already done the least Trumpy thing possible: It apologized.

Trump may get away with attacking, tweeting, doubling down and never apologizing. But he’s the President, and barring any unlikely scenarios, he’s in office through January of 2021 at least. Everyone else in politics — especially companies with contracts at stake — is still bound by the old rules.

It Is Time To Totally Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Right Now

It Is Time To Rebuild Puerto Rico’s Infrastructure Right Now

 

Okay America, Okay politicians in D.C. it is time to step up and do the right thing for a group of 3.3 million poor American citizens who happen to call the Island of Puerto Rico home. If you check into the rebuild in the much more affluent rich folks playground of the American Virgin Islands you will notice they are well ahead in the cleanup efforts being conducted in Puerto Rico.

 

One of the issues that Donald Trump ran for President on was that he was going to invest in and fix Americas crumbling infrastructure. Fixing our nationally crumbling infrastructure is a great way to create good paying jobs plus gives the people a more viable secure living condition. Right now, President Trump needs to live up to his campaign promises on this issue. Now is not the time to put in some straggled patch work projects in Puerto Rico, now is the time to rebuild it into a quality place for human beings to work and live within. Hurricane Maria plowed the fields of the old, it is now, right now, time to invest the 95 Billion or so odd dollars that the ‘professionals’ say it will take to fix what is broken. So, Mr. Trump, stop Tweeting, shut the hell up and just do your job. Fix what has been broken under your watch. You campaigned on infrastructure rebuilding, you did not say you only wanted to rebuild the neighborhoods of your personal friends on the American tax payers dime. But then again we the people have become quite accustomed to you being an habitual liar. Just like the other trash in your personal swamp.

Puerto Rico’s Misery, Four Weeks After Maria

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Puerto Rico’s misery, four weeks after Maria, seems like it may never end

Updated 4:49 PM ET, Wed October 18, 2017

(CNN)The misery never ceases. And for millions of people in Puerto Rico, the future holds little promise of hope.

Four weeks after Hurricane Maria laid waste to the American territory, the islands remain in a state of acute crisis. Each day, the most basic elements of modern life — potable water, electricity, medicine, phone service — fade further into memory. And each night, infants and schoolchildren and working parents and elders close their eyes with nary a sense of when civilization might return.
Some call conditions nothing short of apocalyptic. And yet, the plan for recovery remains as murky as the filthy water some residents have scooped up to drink. Here is a glimpse four weeks into the disaster:

Source: CIA Factbook; CNN; Puerto Rico government. Moody’s Analytics

Desperate Puerto Ricans are drinking water from a hazardous-waste site

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

Desperate Puerto Ricans are drinking water from a hazardous-waste site

Story highlights

  • More than 35% of Puerto Ricans are still without safe drinking water
  • The island’s water utility is distributing water from a Superfund site

Dorado, Puerto Rico (CNN)Jose Luis Rodriguez waited in line Friday to fill plastic jugs in the back of his pickup truck with water for drinking, doing the dishes and bathing.

But there is something about this water Rodriguez didn’t know: It was being pumped to him by water authorities from a federally designated hazardous-waste site, CNN learned after reviewing Superfund documents and interviewing federal and local officials.
Rodriguez, 66, is so desperate for water that this news didn’t startle him.
“I don’t have a choice,” he said. “This is the only option I have.”
More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria ravaged this island, more than 35% of the island’s residents — American citizens — remain without safe drinking water.
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It’s clear some residents are turning to potentially risky sources to get by.

Jose Luis Rodriguez

Friday afternoon, CNN watched workers from the Puerto Rican water utility, Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, or AAA, distribute water from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, which was listed in 2016 as part of the federal Superfund program for hazardous waste cleanup.
Residents like Rodriguez filled small bottles from a hose and piled them in their vehicles. Large trucks with cylindrical tanks on their backs carried the water to people elsewhere. Some of the trucks carried the name of the municipality of Dorado. Others simply were labeled with the words “Agua Potable,” Spanish for potable water.
In announcing the addition of the Dorado site to the Superfund program, the US Environmental Protection Agency says the area was polluted with industrial chemicals, including tetrachloroethylene and trichloroethylene, which “can have serious health impacts including damage to the liver and increasing the risk of cancer,” according to the EPA.

EPA ‘gathering more information’

It’s unclear whether there are public health risks from this particular well, however.
The EPA said it plans to do testing in the area over the weekend.
“The EPA is gathering more information about the quality of water from the wells associated with our Dorado groundwater contamination site, as well as other Superfund sites in Puerto Rico,” the agency said in a statement issued to CNN on Friday. “While some of these wells are sometimes used to provide drinking water, the EPA is concerned that people could be drinking water that may be contaminated, depending on the well. We are mindful of the paramount job of protecting people’s health, balanced with people’s basic need for water.”
Regional EPA spokesman Elias Rodriguez confirmed the location is part of a Superfund site.
Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados, the water authority, was unaware that this well site was part of the Superfund program until CNN provided maps showing that this was the case, according to Luis Melendez, sub-director for environmental compliance at the utility.
Melendez maintained the water is fit for public consumption. The well was opened on an emergency basis and is not part of the regular drinking water supply, he said.
In 2015, this well in Dorado, which is located near a shopping center, was found by the EPA to be safely within federal standards for PCE and chloroform, two industrial chemicals.

‘I’ve never seen this before’

Martyn Smith, a professor of toxicology at the University of California, Berkeley, told CNN the levels of PCE and chloroform would be essentially safe for human consumption. “I wouldn’t have any problem in drinking this water if these were the only chemicals in it,” he said. The problem with Superfund sites, he said, is that you don’t know what else is present.
“I’ve never seen this before,” he said, referring to the idea a Superfund site would be used as a source of public drinking water. Boiling the water, he said, would reduce possible contamination. And it’s somewhat understandable, Smith added, that people in Puerto Rico would turn to possibly questionable drinking water sources given the scope of the crisis.
Still, a Superfund site — a location with known health risks — is just about the last place a person would want to turn to find drinking water, even in a crisis, said Erik Olson, head of the health program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group.
“There are thousands of chemicals out there that could be in a Superfund site and only a relative handful are covered by standards,” he said. “What I would be worried about is stuff that isn’t showing up on EPA’s drinking water standards. It just sounds really risky to me to be serving water out of a Superfund well.”
People waiting in line for water on Friday were largely unaware of these concerns. Some of them had heard the EPA announced this week that it had received reports that Puerto Ricans were getting water from Superfund sites. But those interviewed assumed that wasn’t this well.
Mayra Perez, a 59-year-old retiree, expressed pride in the quality of the water.
“I’m sure there are no chemicals in this water,” she said.
Aixa Chevere, a mother of two, said she would find a new source of water if this site was shown to be contaminated. Already, the family spends three to four hours per day waiting in lines for basic services and goods, including water. “We would boil the water or search for bottled water” if it were dangerous, she said. “We would find some other alternative.”
That day, however, she loaded the water into her trunk of her car.