Report from Puerto Rico

Tiny - Posted on 22 October 2017

REPORT FROM PUERTO RICO. It's taken me a couple of days to write. I am so furious with the way the Puerto Rican people are being left to suffer and die. The US government, military, FEMA, Rossello and PR state government have mounted little response. Everything you have hear is true and worse by 100 times. The military s a policing presence rarely actually helping the surprise there. Unconfirmed word is that Tiger Swan (Blackwater spin off) may be coming in to handle security. I was told repeatedly by aid organizations that it was unsafe to go places without armed guards...not at all true. False reports spread to intimidate people.

There are still trailer tractors of donations sitting at the airport and port not getting out to people. There are trucks and cars willing to transport supplies. Many grassroots folks are distributing tons of supplies despite harassment by police or difficulty in getting their supplies out of the airport.

Per FEMA, 6.2 million gallons of water has been distributed since September 20 for 3.4 million people or less than 9% of the minimum drinking water needed (per WHO, 2,5 liters per day.) And, of course even more water is needed for cooking, washing fruits and vegetables, and hygiene like brushing your teeth. One cannot trust any of the water as not being contaminated. With electricity gone, sewage plants backed up into the San Juan water supply in the mountains (like Hetch Tetchy for the SF Bay Area). There are cases of leptospirosis with some fatalaties from the contaminated water as well as other other bacterial and protozoal water-borne illnesses. DHHS, FEMA, the military and Red Cross told their workers not to drink anything but purified water.

The worst hit areas are those still barely accessible in the mountains. These folks need food and water air dropped to them. Most hospitals are working on back up generators as their is little electricity on the island. I understand the Hope hospital ship is almost empty docked in PR but patients are not getting transferred there. Folks are desperate for insulin.

The beautiful tropical forests have been stripped of their foliage leaving brown trunks of "burned" trees still standing instead of the luscious green we think of PR. Even the ocean is contaminated and I was told not to go in. The beaches are empty. Electrical poles have been knocked over, sometimes destroying buildings. Light posts are snapped off at their base. Traffic lights are blown away or a twisted mess even if there was electricity. Poles and trees still standing have been damaged and continue to fall unexpectedly. San Juan's tall buildings are dark at night as are most other places, Those with generators have electricity but pollute the air with the exhaust.

Communication is shaky in San Juan and nonexistent in much of the island. Most of the island cell towers were destroyed in the hurricane. In Ponce's biggest hospital with its own internet connection, I could usually text but except for 2-5 am had little or no internet. I was only able to make one call out (to my mother who was on stand by to evacuate from the California fires). The hospital in Adjuntas had no communication with the outside world. I met a ham radio operator who was going to towns in the mountains to help them get their communications up. Boricua in the diaspora have been desperate to reach their families. Of course, there is no 911.

Of course, the poor are hardest hit with wooden structures that fell down and zinc roofs that flew off. The strength of the hurricane and its tornados is inescapably evident. Even concrete buildings have collapsed. . Giant tree trunks twisted off and many trees fallen, crushing buildings and cars. Landslides, bridges washed out, roads just gone.

The PR people have worked tirelessly to clear roads and highways. People with chain saws and machetes clearing paths for neighbors to connect and get to roads, rescuing people in flooded areas with boats. Still, the rains are continuing with more landslides, flash flood warnings, and often deteriorating conditions. The spirit of the people is amazing. Most people say they are "fine" when asked. Their houses are also "fine" even though they were flooded with several inches of water and perhaps a portion of the roof flew off. There is the endless daily searching for water, food, batteries, diapers, formula, and hours-long lines to get money, ice, or entrance to a big store that has goods. Gas is more available now than it was the first days.

The people who are not so fine are those I cared for in the shelters, many disabled, whose homes have been totally destroyed, who do not have family or other resources to have another place to stay. There were so many sick and disabled in the largest shelter of 124 people in Ponce where I spent the most time. I couldn't believe the problems people were living with: muscular dystrophy (paralyzed with a urine bag), AIDS, uncontrolled insulin-dependent diabetes, 2 adults with cerebral palsy, myasthenia graves, Bilateral below the knee amputee, blind and paralyzed, bedridden diabetic elder, patients with wounds, numerous out of control hypertensives. Everyone very stressed, A young woman, single parent with 2 young children and her disabled parents, elders alone with no family. No one had any idea where they would be able to go long term, no places available to rent. The shelters are run by a private corporation and although there were some big-hearted workers, the corporation's overall response to needs as basic as filling prescriptions was horrible.

So many businesses are closed, the tourism industry is gone, and reports are that 3,000 people a day are leaving the island. Their jobs are gone, they have no income. Survival is very challenging. The colonial nightmare is intensifying. There are those who plan to become fabulously wealthy off this disaster, buying up all the land and eventually turning PR into a wealthy people's playground. Fortunately, there are boricua on the island and in the diaspora working for another reality.

I searched for the hope, saw a tree that was nearly bare sprout leaves during the days I was in Ponce. I heard of a pediatrician in the mountains who was pregnant, had lost her home and clinic, but was seeing long lines of patients every day in a parking lot. I saw neighbors taking care of each other who had barely spoken before the hurricane, I saw so many working nonstop to help their families and communities survive. There are also many great reporters documenting. Thank you Rosa Clemente, Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, and all. Please donate as possible to the grassroots folks who are doing so much.

in struggle and preparing to return to PR,

Amanda Bloom


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