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Puerto Rico's Residents Are In 'Great Danger' And Need Help, Governor Says

26/09/2017 1:03 AM AEST | Updated 26/09/2017 4:03 AM AEST

We’ve heard devastating stories in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, but not nearly enough about the impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico.

The U.S. territory was slammed by the tropical storm mere days ago. As 3.4 million residents continue to scramble to safety, the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, has called for more federal aid. Many residents do not have access to water, power or roads. It’s been described as “apocalyptic.”

At least 13 lives have been lost in the storm and there are 70,000 more at risk should a dam in the western part of the island break.

Rosselló said in an appearance on CNN Monday morning that the Guajataca dam has fallen apart in a “critical infrastructure failure,” adding that strenuous efforts are being made to ensure that everyone in the dam’s vicinity have been evacuated. When asked if he thinks the dam will falter, Rosselló said he’d “have to assume so.”

“I don’t have all the details. ... My action has been to order an evacuation. I’d rather be wrong on that front than doing nothing and having it fail and costing people’s lives,” he said.

Rosselló added that he’s “made contact with all the municipalities” within Puerto Rico and has established runners “to go to those areas where we don’t have telecoms or radio so that we can get information.”

“We’ve established routes so that we can deliver food, water, diesel so that things can keep on moving. We’ve energized the main hospital in Puerto Rico and given fuel to alternate hospitals around the island. We’ve opened the ports to get more resources,” he said.

Alvin Baez / Reuters
An aerial view shows the damage Saturday to the Guajataca dam in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Quebradillas, Puerto Rico.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
People queue to fill containers with gasoline at a gas station after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.
Carlos Garcia Rawlins / Reuters
A man looks at the damages to his house after the area was hit by Hurricane Maria in Toa Baja, Puerto Rico.

Many residents have been unable to get in touch with their families outside of Puerto Rico and within, as nearly 95 percent of wireless cell service is currently out of service, according to the island’s Federal Communications Commission.

New Yorker Kristin Vazquez, 25, has family in Puerto Rico and tells HuffPost she hasn’t spoken to her family since the day of the hurricane. 

“I’m concerned about my great-grandmother. She’s 103 years old, and without the proper resources she may be in serious danger,” Vazquez said. “My cousin might fly down to Puerto Rico if she doesn’t hear from them.”

Others, some who have also been unable to speak with their families, have been sharing their stories on social media:

Organizations on the ground are working tirelessly to assess damage and help provide much-needed aid to those affected, including ConPRMetidos, a nonprofit based in San Juan focused on connecting Puerto Ricans with personal, social and economic opportunities.

Isabel Rullan, director of ConPRMetidos, told HuffPost that fallen trees, broken glass and downed power lines litter the island’s streets, alongside people desperately trying to find cell phone signals.

“It looks like winter because there’s no leaves on the trees,” said Rullan, 29, said. “Right now, in front of my desk, I see a tree completely pulled out from the roots.”

We don’t have water in the office and there are no supermarkets around us. This is no joke. Isabel Rullan, director of ConPRMetidos

Six-hour lines have formed at some gas stations around San Juan, where people are desperate to fill up their tanks, Rullan said. Drinking water is scarce, too.

“We don’t have water in the office and there are no supermarkets around us,” Rullan, 29, said. “This is no joke. Someone is going to have to go get water.”

Looting has also become an issue in some neighborhoods surrounding the island’s capital.

“We heard about an apartment building where four people broke in,” Rullan said. “People are worried ... and just trying to be really cautious. Someone told me today that a person went into a gas station with rifles and told everyone, ‘It’s our turn to fill our tanks.’”

Still, Rullan said she’s been overwhelmed by the outpouring of support and interest from those on the U.S. mainland reaching out to her organization in hopes of helping.

“People are just so grateful to be alive,’” she said. “We’re working as a community. We don’t have energy or water, but we’ll figure it out.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz confirmed reports of looting. “There is horror in the streets,” Cruz said in an interview with The Washington Post published Monday. “There is no electricity anywhere in Puerto Rico. People are actually becoming prisoners in their own homes.”

Puerto Rico has suffered a major blow to its agricultural industry as well. More than 80 percent of the island’s crops have been destroyed by the historic storm, reported The New York Times.

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” José A. Rivera, a farmer in southeast Puerto Rico, told the Times. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

President Donald Trump pledged federal help for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but has yet to make a comment about the effects of the hurricane on the territory. 

Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have both implored Trump to shift his attention to the dire situation in Puerto Rico:

If you’re looking for ways to help the people of Puerto Rico, you can find some here.

This article has been updated to include quotes from Rullan and Cruz. 

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Hurricane Maria Devastation In Puerto Rico

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