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'We are U.S. Citizens; We Shouldn't be the Lesser': Puerto Rico Cries Out for More Hurricane Aid

A couple sits in their home in El Negro, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 21, 2017, a day after Hurricane Maria roared through. (AP Photo/Carlos Giusti)

Puerto Rico is crying out for more aid as the island struggles with devastated power and water systems in the wake of Category 5 Hurricane Maria, along with infrastructure damage to the Guajataca Dam that puts it at high risk of failure.

Only a few hospitals have managed to stay in operation; one told CNN that they’re running out of fuel for their generator and will run out of supplies and medicine in a couple of days.

“The stories and images coming out of Puerto Rico are devastating,” House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) said in a statement today. “Congress is working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to the U.S. territory. Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico remain in our prayers as we make sure they have what they need.”

White House officials said a disaster aid request for Puerto Rico would likely be sent to Congress in the first or second week of October. Tweeted Lin-Manuel Miranda, the Hamilton playwright and composer who is of Puerto Rican descent, “Hey @realDonaldTrump you can’t wait that long. There will be a lot of American deaths on your watch if you wait that long.”

“Whatever relief package we have, whatever impact we have, we are U.S. citizens,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said. “We shouldn’t be the lesser for it.” Over the weekend, he asked the Defense Department for more resources. “We know that there are capabilities in the surrounding areas, helicopters, planes and so forth,” he told Politico. “And our petition is for us to be able to use them.”

“We still need some more help. This is clearly a critical disaster in Puerto Rico,” Rossello told the Washington Post on Sunday night. “It can’t be minimized and we can’t start overlooking us now that the storm passed, because the danger lurks.”

Lawmakers should remember, he said, that “this is a major disaster, not unlike Katrina or Sandy — there is going to be a hefty toll for us to make sure that we can reestablish normalcy and build Puerto Rico back stronger.”

Some of the problems including getting aid to rural areas, getting extra law enforcement officers to supplement local police as looting increases, and getting basic aid to the stranded. More than 95 percent of cell phone infrastructure is knocked out. The governor has been unable to reach all of the island’s mayors yet.

“I’m afraid that perhaps other events have garnered more attention than this one, when the force of nature, the impact that this has had, the devastation is equal to those events,” Rossello said.

“We are U.S. citizens that just a few weeks ago went to the aid of other U.S. citizens even as we’re going through our fiscal downturn and as we were hit by another storm,” he added. “Now, we’ve been essentially devastated. Complete destruction of the power infrastructure, severe destruction of the housing infrastructure, food and water are needed. My petition is that we were there once for our brothers and sisters, our other U.S. citizens, now it’s time that U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are taken care of adequately, properly.”

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz described “horror in the streets” and told the Post “people are actually becoming prisoners in their own homes.”

“I know we won’t get to everybody in time,” she said.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said in a statement today that “six FEMA Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) task forces are deployed to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico and are working in tandem with numerous federal partners to rescue and render aid to distressed survivors in the region.”

“The U.S. Coast Guard is operating nine cutters in the vicinity of Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands, bringing helicopter SAR support, while teams from CBP are operating two P-3 maritime patrol aircraft to assist in communications, a wide-area search, and distress signal monitoring capabilities. An additional five flight deck-equipped cutters, five patrol boats, four rotary wing, and one fixed wing aircraft are moving to the vicinity of U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico to further support search and rescue efforts,” FEMA said. “…Department of Defense support includes helicopter SAR flights, damage assessment flights, beach assessments, and patient evacuation flights flown from the amphibious ships USS Kearsarge and USS Oak Hill and Marines embarked from the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit.”

The agency said it’s provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water, nearly 300 infant and toddler kits, and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits to the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico since Maria struck.

Hillary Clinton tweeted Sunday, “President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens.” A Defense official said that sending the hospital ship still at its home port in Norfolk, Va., was considered, but there’s no deep-enough port to dock the ship.

President George H.W. Bush’s office announced today that the One America Appeal — the joint fundraising effort by all former living presidents launched after Hurricane Harvey — would be expanded to cover Hurricane Maria’s devastation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands: “Now individuals, foundations and institutions making tax deductible donations at OneAmericaAppeal.org may choose to assist all three recovery efforts from Hurricanes Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida and Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands – or to direct their donation to a specific recovery effort – using the drop-down menu in the website’s donation section.”