With all the controversies this week in Washington, the absolute total devastation caused by hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has gotten lost in the shuffle.
The hurricane literally swallowed the island. Things are so bad that the EPA is pulling its operations out due to unsafe conditions.
“EPA has temporarily paused all response operations in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands due to Hurricane Maria,” the agency said Friday night.
The agency confirmed to the Washington Examiner that the situation in the Caribbean has become too hazardous for it to effectively operate in the two U.S. territories.
Puerto Rico’s electric power has been completely disabled and is not expected to be restored for months. On Saturday, some 70,000 people were being evacuated from communities near a major earthen dam that is about to burst on the swollen Guajataca River.
Puerto Rico is also home to 27 landfills that activist groups have complained to EPA have been used by companies to dump hazardous toxic substances in violation of environmental laws. It is unclear if the landfills have sustained any significant damage in the wake of the storm.
For now, EPA explained that it will remain at its mobile command post in Miami, Fla., where it is coordinating the response to Maria with the U.S. Coast Guard operating in the Florida Keys.
Island officials describe the devastation as “apocalyptic.”
Authorities flew over the island Saturday, and were stunned by what they saw. No cellphones, water or power. Roads completely washed away and others blocked by debris, isolating residents.
“It was devastating to see all that kind of debris in all areas, in all towns of the island,” Jenniffer González, the island’s non-voting representative in Congress told CNN.
“We never expected to have a lot of debris in so many areas. A lot of roads are closed, older ones are just gone,” she added.
At least 10 people have been confirmed killed by the storm, according to Gov. Ricardo Rosselló’s office.
Roselló met with more than 50 mayors and representatives from across Puerto Rico on Saturday. Some described the conditions in their communities as “apocalyptic” and said there have been incidents of looting in both homes and stores.
“We know a little more today than we did yesterday,” Rossello said. “This is going to be a long road.”
A dam is in danger of collapsing, adding to the crisis.
US President Donald Trump has pledged federal help for Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands.
The Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration said 4,000 members of the US Army Reserves have been deployed to the island to help with Hurricane Maria recovery.
We’re not hearing much about this devastation, which seems equally as severe as Harvey or Irma damage. Puerto Ricans are American citizens too, made so by an act of Congress in 1917. They deserve the same help that we are giving those in Texas and Florida.