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Puerto Rico is desperate and aid isn't coming fast enough

by Taylor Dolven
Sep 25 2017, 4:21pm

Federal rescue and aid missions in Puerto Rico ramped up Monday as horror stories from Hurricane Maria’s aftermath surfaced over the weekend.

Administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency Brock Long touched down in Puerto Rico Monday as federal troops continue to deliver food, water and gas to the island. He called Maria the worst hurricane Puerto Rico has ever seen.

Five days after Hurricane Maria struck, much of Puerto Rico is still in the dark without cell phone service, electricity, gas or access to cash, leaving many people stranded without essential supplies. The death toll reached 16 on Monday, according to government officials.

“While significant progress is being made, there is still a long way to go,” a FEMA spokesperson said via email Monday.

HAYALES DE COAMO, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 24: Karlian Mercado, 7, rests on the rubble that remains of her family's home after it was blown away by Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area on September 24, 2017 in Hayales de Coamo, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

More than 10,000 federal emergency response workers are on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, devastated by Hurricane Irma just weeks ago, doing search and rescue efforts and delivering aid. FEMA said search and rescue task forces have saved or assisted more than 500 people so far and delivered 1.5 million meals and 1.1 million liters of water.

But horror stories shared on social media paint a different picture. Over the weekend and into Monday Puerto Ricans used Twitter and Facebook to draw attention to vulnerable elderly and sick people, and others stranded in flooded areas with no way to call for help.

AIBONITO, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 24: Danalys Luna and Edgardo Feliciano wash their clothes in a stream as people wait for the electrical and water grids to be repaired September 24, 2017 in Aibonito, Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Armando Valdés said he and a group of volunteers visited a 14-story elderly home with 200 residents in San Juan on Sunday. He said both of the building’s elevators were broken and the group found people without food, water, and electricity, and no way to call 911.

Nearly three-quarters of the island is without cell service, as officials work to repair damaged telecommunications towers, a government official announced Monday morning. Thousands of people are gathering in San Juan — which remains partially flooded — to try to use their cellphones to connect with loved ones. Others are camping out on suburban freeways to try to get a signal.

People use their devices to communicate as they congregate on the street at a wifi hotspot in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017. Federal aid is racing to stem a growing humanitarian crisis in towns left without fresh water, fuel, electricity or phone service by the hurricane. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

“We only have signal in the capital,” Jay Fonseca, a media commentator in Puerto Rico, told Latino Rebels Radio Sunday evening. “It has become impossible to reach your family members, to get to know where water is needed. This is the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said the worst of the damage from Hurricane Maria is yet to come. She estimates some hospitals may be without power for up to three weeks, while gas supplies for generators are dwindling.

“There is horror in the streets,” she told the Washington Post. “People are becoming prisoners in their own homes. The sheer pain in people’s eyes, not because of what has happened but because of the difficulty of what will come.”