There are 3.4 million American citizens on Puerto Rico, and the President doesn’t care. He spent the weekend kvetching over football, and didn’t mention the island until about 7 PM on Monday night. When he tweeted about it, he mentioned the island’s debt. That’s appropriate: after all, the President has an intimate knowledge of bankruptcy. Trump took his cue from the American media. For most of the press, the island’s suffering is second-page news. It’s distant to them; forever backseat to North Korea or stories of the NFL.
But Puerto Rico is part of America, and we must do more to aid our brothers and sisters. The lessons of Katrina will mean little if we are willing to let part of American drown every fifteen years because we got too lazy or distracted to try and help. According to the Times-Picayune, Hurricane Maria has “set Puerto Rico back decades.” The Guajataca Dam may collapse at any moment. Oil tankers drift on the sea. This is a major disaster.
The death toll from Maria in Puerto Rico was at least 10, including two police officers who drowned in floodwaters in the western town of Aguada. That number was expected to climb as officials from remote towns continued to check in with officials in San Juan. Authorities in the town of Vega Alta on the north coast said they had been unable to reach an entire neighborhood called Fatima, and were particularly worried about residents of a nursing home. Across the Caribbean, Maria had claimed at least 31 lives, including at least 15 on hard-hit Dominica.
The Times reported that Puerto Rico’s agriculture has been “decimated” by Hurricane Maria:
“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.” Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away. In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.
An estimated $780 million in farming yield was destroyed by the storm. The lesser Irma, which only brushed the island, demolished $45 million in production. In news reports of post-storm Puerto Rico, there are descriptions of vanished plantations—mostly banana, coffee, and plantain. Infrastructure was torn up, farms smashed, livelihoods of every kind destroyed. An estimated eighty-five percent of the island’s food is imported. As of this writing, thousands of passengers crowd the Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport. The people are in dire trouble.
According to ABC News:
Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello says the island is facing an “unprecedented disaster” in the wake of Maria, which tore through on Sept. 20, killing at least 16 and knocking out electricity to the entire island. The storm also devastated other islands in the Caribbean, including Dominica, where at least 27 have died. “The devastation is vast,” Rossello said. Maria built on the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma, which blew through just weeks earlier.
As is the custom nowadays, Twitter had plenty to say.
The real crime here is a system which has abandoned large swaths of America, and consigned Puerto Rico to permanent second-class status. A debt of about seventy-three billion impoverished the state power company, and made life across the island a thousand times more difficult. It’s part of the mainland’s long-term history of neglect. The winds and waves only add to the trouble. The spirit of the people has not been broken, but they cannot live on hope alone. Puerto Rico can survive everything but indifference.