Puerto Rico crisis

How to help Puerto Rico after Maria

Sep 27, 2017
R
Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, damaging homes and roads and destroying the island's power grid.

The official count puts the number of people killed at 16, but hundreds of people are still missing, and families are desperate to hear news of their whereabouts.

What’s the best way to help?  The United States Agency for International Development suggests donating money, instead of goods, after natural disasters.

Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, students who can't return to school may need to continue their education on the mainland.

Some of the largest school districts in Florida, plus major cities like New York City and Chicago, are preparing for the possibility of an influx of students from the island.

In South Florida, Miami-Dade County public schools are already working to accommodate students who need to transfer from Puerto Rico.

Millions of people have no access to a power grid in Puerto Rico. Gas for cars and generators is hard to find. Cash is in short supply.

But there is another need that is even more pressing.

"I can live without power," says Wanda Ferrer. "But I can't live without water."

Ferrer was one of many people filling up at a government spigot in Toa Bajo, west of San Juan. Communities across Puerto Rico have lost running water as a result of the widespread power outages from Hurricane Maria, and it's not clear when it will be restored.

The Department of Homeland Security is considering a request by members of Congress to waive shipping restrictions to Puerto Rico, senior DHS officials said Wednesday.

The request is to waive restrictions under the Jones Act, which restricts shipping of goods between U.S. coasts to U.S.-flagged vessels (as opposed to foreign-flagged vessels).

Puerto Ricans in Southwest Florida are having difficulty getting in contact with loved ones on the island since Hurricane Maria damaged power grids. 


In a tiny sliver of shade, on a hill next to Puerto Rico's Route 65, Kiara Rodriguez de Jesus waves a sparkly pink hand fan to keep cool.

"I trust in God," she says. "Please, come the gas."

Along with her family, parked in a Volvo SUV, she has been in line for gasoline since 3 a.m., she says. Now it's after 1:30 p.m. And like everyone else at this gas station, she has no idea how much longer she'll be waiting.

When Hurricane Maria raked Puerto Rico last week as a Category 4 storm, it cut off electricity and communications island-wide, including at the Arecibo Observatory, one of the world's largest radio telescopes.

Outside of his little business on the side of the road in a small town in Loiza, Puerto Rico, Santiago Quiñones adjusts a small solar panel.

It's charging a floodlight, to illuminate the cramped space at night. He takes it down and demonstrates how it works. "You can't see right now because it's daylight, but it's already charged," he says in Spanish.

Like nearly everyone else in Puerto Rico, 73-year-old Quiñones has lost access to the power grid. His house was also badly damaged by floodwaters when Hurricane Maria swept over the island.

Irma Rivera Aviles, like nearly 200 others, is stuck at a shelter in Cataño, Puerto Rico, where conditions are getting worse daily. Nearly a week after Hurricane Maria rampaged through the country, she's desperately pleading for help. "The governor needs to come here and take a look at our critical situation," she says. "The bathrooms flooded and aren't working, sewage is overflowing, the generator is broken and we are here in the dark."

"We desperately need water, power and ice," she says.

Updated at 2:30 p.m. ET

For years, Puerto Rico has grappled with an ever-mounting debt crisis, watching as its public-sector bills have grown to more than $70 billion. Including what the U.S. territory owes to pension funds, that debt exceeds $120 billion.

Now, Puerto Rico's struggle with its creditors has stepped into U.S. federal court, where an unprecedented debt-restructuring case opened with a hearing Wednesday.

Puerto Rico has asked for a form of bankruptcy protection to help it grapple with more than $70 billion in public-sector debt. The unprecedented maneuver, requested by the governor and filed shortly afterward by a federal oversight board, sets in motion what would likely be the largest municipal debt restructuring in U.S. history.

After nearly two years of missed payments and delayed actions, Puerto Rico is bumping up against another deadline as it tries to grapple with tens of billions of dollars of debt.

One proposal for partial repayment of the debt was rejected over the weekend. Another option is for the island to essentially declare bankruptcy, through a process created specifically for Puerto Rico.

After midnight on Monday, if some sort of deal has not been struck, the U.S. territory will be fair game for lawsuits by its creditors.

On Puerto Rico's southwestern corner, the sleepy seaside town of Guanica is where, nearly 120 years ago, the U.S. relationship with the island began during the Spanish-American War. The town's museum director, Francisco Rodriguez, takes visitors to the town's waterfront where the invasion began. In Spanish he says, "This is Guanica Bay, where the American troops commanded by General Nelson Miles landed on July 25, 1898." At the site, a stone marker engraved by the 3rd Battalion of the U.S. Army commemorates the invasion.

Ricardo Arduengo / AP via Miami Herald

COMMENTARY

As the waters of the Florida Straits warm up again, a new surge of Cuban rafters is landing in Florida. Sixty arrived in Key West in just the past week, in large part to escape the island’s moribund economy.

But Cubans aren’t the only panicked wave hitting our peninsula. Florida’s Puerto Rican population now tops 1 million, more than double the number in 2000. And they keep coming, thanks to a massive economic crisis in Puerto Rico that forced the government to default on a big chunk of a $422 million debt payment that was due Monday.

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