By Steve Santos
The strongest storm to make landfall in Puerto Rico in eighty-five years, Hurricane Maria left behind a trail of destruction and devastation on September 20th. A category four hurricane with one-hundred and fifty miles per hour winds, Maria’s effects were catastrophic to an island that had just felt the effects of Hurricane Irma weeks earlier.
A spokesman for Puerto Rico’s governor, Carlos Mercarder, described the Hurricane as “as total devastation”, and said that “in terms of infrastructure, [Puerto Rico] will not be the same… This is something of historic proportions.” Now weeks later, Puerto Ricans are still suffering from its effects and a lackluster recovery response from the US.
At the time of writing, according to Business Insider, 90% of civilians are without power all throughout Puerto Rico, and less than half of the islands’ 3.4 million citizens have access to clean drinking water. Many citizens have no safe housing, as many infrastructures are damaged or destroyed by the effects of Maria. This has also made distributing supplies a difficult task due to the lack of navigable roads.
While its civilians are struggling for survival, Puerto Ricos’ economy is taking a large hit as well. Fears of lack of power could drive large-scale manufactures to relocate, in hopes of better opportunities. It estimated that costs to rebuild could land between fifty and sixty billion dollars according to the Financial Times. This money is critical in order for them to rebuild their electricity grid, replace infrastructure and bridges, and re-establish communication networks. For an island haunted by debt, they will assuredly be looking to the US to assist their recovery.
On October 3rd, Donald Trump made his first visit to Puerto Rico to get a first-hand look at the damage. Ideally, Trump’s visit would be a way to show the locals struggling for survival that America was doing all it could to assist in the situation. However, reports of Trump’s visit did all but erase any concerns.
During his visit, Trump managed to belittle the storm’s damage in comparison to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and criticize Puerto Rico for throwing the US budget out of whack. Perhaps most notably, videos of Donald Trump lobbing paper towels to hurricane victims like a T-Shirt toss at an NBA game went viral. San Juan Mayor, Carmen Yulín Cruz, took great offense to this display, saying that “He was insulting to the people of Puerto Rico.” Despite reports of criticism, Trump stated that he received “nothing but thank you” for his visit. He tweeted out “Nobody could have done what I’ve done for #PuertoRico with so little appreciated. So much work!”
His tweet was accompanied with a video demonstrating FEMA’s, or Federal Emergency Management Agency, efforts to assist Puerto Rico in its recovery. While Trump insists his efforts have gone unnoticed, his actions represent a questionable response to a United States territory that really needs assistance.