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Puerto Rico, A Disaster by any measure

Hurricane Maria: Puerto Ricans Plead for More Federal Aid to Devastated Island

Puerto Ricans described desperate conditions on the hurricane-ravaged island and pleaded for more help from federal agencies on Monday, with some saying they felt the U.S. territory was being forgotten.

“It looks like a bomb went off,” said Monique Casablanca, 37, by phone from Ocean Park in the capital of San Juan.

“I’ve seen very little to no police presence, I’ve seen zero military presence. Nights are excruciating, there’s screaming, there’s gunshots. It’s hot, so it’s hard to sleep right now I haven’t slept in 48 hours,” said Casablanca, a rental property manager.

 No End in Sight for Puerto Rico Relief Effort After Hurricane Maria 1:52

Casablanca said that while she had seen Federal Emergency Management Agency workers visit the area a few days ago, she had not seen them since.

“You feel like you’re forgotten. I’m in an area that’s flooded and there’s basically dead animals — cats, dogs, rats just floating around — the smell is crazy and I don’t see anyone here anywhere as of today or yesterday,” she said.

“We need more of everything, we need help,” she said.

Federal agencies rescuing people and delivering humanitarian aid to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria faced an island that remains largely without power, running water, fuel and access to cell service on Monday, five days after the storm first made landfall.

FEMA Administrator Brock Long and Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert arrived on the island on Monday and met Gov. Ricardo Rossello in San Juan as relief crews continued to work to provide much needed supplies to the island.

More than 10,000 federal staff, including 700 FEMA personnel, were on the ground in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, assisting with rescue efforts, restoring power and getting badly needed supplies to parts of the islands, a FEMA spokesperson said on Monday evening.

“While significant progress is being made, there is still a long way to go,” the FEMA spokesperson said in a statement Monday evening. “As access to ports, airfields, and roads continues to become available, additional resources will continue to flow into hard hit areas.”

“FEMA and our federal partners continue 24-hour operations, conducting search and rescue operations, bringing additional essential commodities to the islands, and restoring power at critical facilities with generators, and the fuel needed to power them,” the spokesperson added.

Nine search and rescue were working “around the clock” in the region, FEMA said in a tweet earlier Monday.

The agency said that it had provided more than 1.5 million meals, 1.1 million liters of water and nearly 12,000 emergency roofing kits.

 National Guard Units Across the Country Join Puerto Rico Relief Effort 2:30

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had said Monday that Long and Bossert were sent to assess the damage from the ground.

“We’ve done unprecedented movement in terms of federal funding to provide for the people of PR and others that have been impacted by these storms,” she said during the White House press briefing. “We’ll continue to do so and continue to do everything that we can possibly under the federal government to provide assistance.”

Trump tweeted Monday night that while Texas and Florida were “doing great” in the aftermath’s of the recent hurricanes, Puerto Rico “is in deep trouble.”

“It’s old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated,” he tweeted, adding that “Much of the Island was destroyed.”

Trump had not tweeted about Puerto Rico since last Thursday.

Maria was the third major storm to hit U.S. shores in just a month, after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey wreaked havoc across the Caribbean and southeastern U.S.

Maria, which made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, has been blamed for 16 deaths on Puerto Rico, officials said Monday.

 Hurricane Maria: Dam in Puerto Rico is in danger of failing 2:24

William Booher, director of public affairs for FEMA, told the Associated Press on Saturday there was no difference in the agency’s response in Puerto Rico, compared with Texas, Louisiana or Florida after recent hurricanes. FEMA has had sufficient resources to deal with back-to-back-to-back hurricanes, he said, adding that “we’ve been able to address each one of them.”

Rossello also praised federal relief efforts on Monday and said FEMA was doing a “phenomenal job,” according to the Associated Press.

But earlier Monday, he also said the island was facing an “unprecedented disaster” and called for swift action from President Donald Trump’s administration.

“Given Puerto Rico’s fragile economic recovery prior to the storms, we ask the Trump Administration and U.S. Congress to take swift action to help Puerto Rico rebuild,” he said in a statement.

Meanwhile, advocates, residents and officials implored the federal government to send more help and take seriously the long-term impact Maria would have for Puerto Rico.

Image: A man stands on a car on a  flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan
A man stands on a car on a flooded street in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico on on Sept. 25. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Frances Colón, founder of the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit Cenadores, said the “scale of the federal response right now is not on scale with the level of devastation.” Colón formed Cenadores to organize Puerto Ricans on the mainland to volunteer to help the island.

“We still have townships not reached. The government had a diesel ship parked in the bay and the government and National Guard is so maxed out they couldn’t ensure security so the fuel could reach its destination,” said Colón, who lives in Miami and worked 12 years for the State Department as a science and technology adviser. “We need boots on the ground from the federal government. We need FEMA, National Guard, a federal response at [Hurricane] Katrina scale.”

“Everyone is overwhelmed because the disaster is bigger than everyone,” she said.

Image: People sit in their apartment with the window blown out in San Juan
People sit in their apartment with the window blown out by the winds of Hurricane Maria as it passed through the area last week in San Juan, Puerto Rico on on Sept. 25. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

“The response can’t be tepid. It’s been a week and still communication is down and there are towns that haven’t been reached.”

PHOTOS: Hurricane Maria Lashes Puerto Rico, Storm-Battered Caribbean

Armando Valdés Prieto, a lawyer who has been helping with volunteer operations in San Juan said he felt the sheer magnitude of the devastation on the island made distributing federal aid difficult.

“The scope and magnitude of what’s going on is so large that I’m not entirely sure that they really know where to start,” he said by phone Monday afternoon.

He said that while he felt a lot was being done, being unable to communicate with parts of the island compounded problems.

“We’re still kind of in an assessment phase where I guess it’s a little hard to gauge whether or not things are being done right,” he added.

Related: Puerto Rico Holds Its Breath Over Hurricane-Battered Dam

Image: Downed trees surround damaged homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria
Downed trees surround damaged homes in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Sept. 25 in Naranjito, Puerto Rico. Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Adding to the island’s woes is stifling heat. San Juan tied for its maximum temperature at 94 degrees on Sunday, according to the NWS.

“It’s really, really hot and there’s not a lot of respite from the heat,” said Valdés Prieto, adding that many people did not have electrical power and could not use their air conditioners.

And the island’s Aqueduct and Sewer Authority said Monday that only about 40 percent of their customers, or 500,000 people, had water service.

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Hurricane and Other Natural Disasters Tips

We have had two major hurricane that hit many places and while some were prepared many were not. Here are some tips for preparing yourself and family.

  1. Anyone who isn’t a prepper is nuts. I’ll just start off with that blanket statement. Are you prepared for a hurricane as everyone is fighting over cases of water bottles at the store. Having a mean to filter and distill water would be the long term solution.
  2. Don’t go through any medical procedure the day before a hurricane hits. If it gets infected there are no medical service available short of a trip to the ER.
  3. Get flood insurance, even if you live in an area that doesn’t traditionally flood. Homeowners insurance does not cover damage caused by water coming into your house.
  4. Charge all electronics, including solar battery chargers, in the days leading up to something like this. Afterwards, just keep them fully charged, since power outages happen regularly.
  5. Social media is an absolute necessity in times like this. Facebook groups have popped up, connecting neighbor with neighbor and allowing us to loan/borrow things like box fans, extension cords, chain saws, and the like. People are coming out of the woodwork to help out, and it’s because of Facebook.
  6. Nextdoor.com is another life saver.
  7. Heavy duty galoshes (rain boots) can be worth their weight in gold. Trudging through inches and feet of floodwater can be dangerous without boots.
  8. Always have a few filled gas cans around.
  9. If you do make a run to the grocery store in the days leading up to a big storm or something similar, go ahead and throw in some goodies you don’t normally buy.
  10. Get a few solar lights or lanterns.  When our power was out, these lights and lantern are just perfect for providing enough light for a work area or for reading.
  11. Your relatives and friends are going to worry about you, so just accept that and get used to repeating the same information again and again. How wonderful to have people who care about your safety!
  12. Call your insurance company or agent ASAP. They will respond to claims in the order received, so get in there early.
  13. If you experience damage that FEMA may help cover, register with them ASAP also. You’ll receive a registration number. Save that on your cell phone and email it to yourself so it will always be handy.
  14. If you do lose everything, or at least a LOT of what you own, go ahead and cry and ignore people who say things like, “It’s just things. You’re lucky to be alive.” It’s okay to grieve over ruined things. They were a part of your life. They represented what was once normal and now that is gone, at least for now. Cry all you want to and need to without making any excuses.
  15. If you think you may end up without power, go on that assumption and prepare. Run small loads of laundry once a day, run the dishwasher, even when it’s only half full. If the power goes out, you’ll be starting out with clean clothes and dishes.
  16. Pressure canning can be one way to preserve meat that is in the freezer in a power outage. Again, if you think your power may go out, start canning that meat right away. If you have a gas range, you can do the canning without electricity.
  17. You’ll need matches to light the burners on your gas range when the power goes out. Make sure you have plenty of matches. Buy 3 or 4 big boxes. They’re cheap.
  18. Prepare your home for guests. In the case of hundreds or thousands of people being displaced, a very simple way to help is to open up your home, even if just for a few hours. Provide a peaceful, safe haven for families who have lost everything. I think hospitality is greatly overlooked when it comes to disaster recovery.
  19. Not all phone weather apps are the same. Find one you like.
  20. Be prepared for emotional ups and downs.
  21. Get outside when you can do so safely.
  22. Bicycles can get places where vehicles cannot. On a bike you’ll be able to check out storm damage, visit neighbors, run errands, and get fresh air and exercise at the same time.
  23. Be aware of downed electrical wires.
  24. Think about all the volunteers who are going to be thirsty and hungry. Pack brown bag lunches for them and have the  kids help out.
  25. One thing we all take for granted is clean laundry. People with flooded homes will not be able to do laundry and wearing damp, dirty clothes for hours and maybe days at a time is uncomfortable and disheartening. Offer to do laundry for them as an easy way to volunteer.
  26. Buy a few respirators when you begin cleaning out flooded homes. During the Katrina clean-up, many people contracted debilitating illnesses due to inhaling mold and mildew spores.
  27. Consider how you’ll care for your pets both during and after a disaster. Stock up on pet food and kitty litter, if you have cats. If your home is damaged, how will you keep your pets from running away? Make sure you have kennels for them and they are wearing collars with ID tags and have been microchipped.
  28. If you see a stray pet, keep it safe until you can find its owner. Animal shelters are quickly overwhelmed and at capacity. Use Facebook groups for your town and community and Nextdoor.com to reunite pets and owners.
  29. Children may be the most traumatized group of all. Don’t overburden them with your every random thought about doom and gloom! Give them constructive things to do, so they feel they are contributing something important to the family’s survival.
  30. If you are going to help with flood recovery, be sure to wear protective gear, including the respirator mentioned above. Wear boots that go above your ankle a few inches to protect from snake bites and fire ants and heavy work gloves.
  31. Don’t advertise on social media or elsewhere that your home has been flooded and you’re leaving. This just gives looters information that will help them locate your home, specifically.
  32. Even if you can’t help with actual demo work inside flooded homes, you can loan tools, small generators, filled gas cans, work gloves, extension cords, and fans. Label them with your name and phone number but in the madness of storm recovery, you may not get them back.
  33. Stock up on those black, heavy duty trash bags. They’ll come in handy for storm debris, ruined food, mildewed clothes, pieces of wet sheetrock, etc.
  34. Fill your freezer with bags of ice. It will come in handy during while power is out and can be used to keep food and drinks cold for volunteers and rescue workers.
  35. When floodwater is coming in, turn off your electricity at the main breaker and keep it off.
  36. With road closures, you may not have clear passage to help out at shelters, help neighbors muck out their homes, and reach rescue workers, so be prepared to walk. A heavy duty wagon is super helpful at a time like this, as is a bike trailer, for carrying tools, food, and other supplies.
  37. Take both video and photos of your home’s belongings. Some insurance companies prefer one over the other so have both.
  38. As you replace ruined belongings, carpet, sheetrock, and the like, keep every single receipt. If you can, scan them and save them to the cloud or email the scanned images to yourself.
  39. Don’t be surprised if you are overwhelmed with kind offers of help.
  40. Take care of yourself. You’re going to need a mental break every now and then.
  41. Use some kind map app to find look for road closures, which is immensely helpful.
  42. If you don’t know your neighbors now, you soon will! Be the first one to reach out with offers of a hot cup of coffee, a couple of hours of babysitting for a stressed out mom, or heavy duty labor to help an elderly person clear out their yard.
  43. Don’t wig out every time you hear a news report, especially on social media. If it doesn’t come directly from an official channel, then take a few deep breaths and wait until it’s verified.
  44. It will take a while for life to return to a new normal.
  45. If you have skills in administration and logistics, put them to work! One neighborhood can set up their own volunteer check-in desk at the entrance to their subdivision! As volunteers arrive, they are directed to specific homes in need of help. To do this, you’ll need neighborhood maps, roving volunteers with walkie-talkies to assess damage and report to the control center, and, of course, food and water is appreciated. This is a brilliant example of micro-emergency response.
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Natural Disasters: Emergency Preparedness Checklist

There are a number of different emergency events that people prepare for; unfortunately, far too many people ignore the most likely ones and focus on things that may or may not ever happen. But there are some events that are actually pretty predictable. At some point, everyone is going to have to deal with a natural disaster, so preparing for these events is something that we all need to take seriously.

What to expect:

While every disaster will have its own set of unique challenges, there are some things that you can expect during most natural disasters. Whether it’s a hurricane, flood, earthquake, wildfire, or even just extreme seasonal storms, there are a number of things you should be prepared to deal with.

  • Expect to be without utilities for several days to several weeks. That means services like electricity, gas, and water could be affected.
  • Disruptions in Food Distribution. Depending on the severity of the disaster, it’s very likely that you will see at least temporary disruptions in food delivery systems. Your local grocery stores may have trouble keeping food on the shelves.
  • Loss of Infrastructure Services. Things like trash collection, emergency services, and even hospital services could be affected.
  • Crime, Looting, and Violence. During most disasters there is usually a pretty big uptick in the amount of crime. From unprepared people who are desperate to find supplies, to the lowlifes who prey on the innocent in the aftermath of a disaster, this is something that has become far too common of an occurrence post-disaster.

Do you know what Disasters are most likely in your Area?

In order to plan for emergencies, you need to know what disasters are most likely to affect your immediate area.

  • Do you live in an earthquake zone?
  • Is your home situated in a flood plain?
  • What disasters have affected your geographical location in the past?

If you live in an area that is prone to a certain type of natural disaster, then that’s where you need to start your planning.

Do you have an evacuation plan in Place?

Being prepared for natural disasters means preparing for the possibility of having to evacuate your home, and possibly even your city or state. Events like hurricanes, wildfires, and earthquakes can create a situation where hunkering down could prove to be a life-threatening decision. It’s essential that you have a plan in place to deal with evacuation causing disasters.

Depending on where you live, millions of people could be hitting the roads trying to flee the area.

If you don’t have a plan, or you decide to wait for the government to issue an evacuation notice before you leave, you’re probably not going to get out of town on time. At the very least, you will find yourself stuck for hours in traffic with hordes of people all trying to escape; but more likely, you will probably find yourself stuck in the danger zone without a way of getting out.

  • Your plan should have a trigger. You need to decide ahead of time what things would need to happen for you to kick your plan into place.
  • You need to keep communication in mind and have a plan for contacting your loved ones during an emergency.
  • You need to practice your plan before disaster strikes.

Is your Home Disaster Ready?

When disaster strikes, there is a good chance your home is going to sustain some sort of damage. To minimize the effects of the disaster, and to help ensure your safety, there are some things you should be aware of.

  • Find out where your homes emergency shutoffs are located. If a disaster ruptures your waterlines or gas pipes, or damages the power grid in anyway, you may need to shut off these utility services at the source.
  • Do you have a Safe Room? You should have a room in your home that is a dedicated safe zone – an area away from windows that has been structurally fortified to withstand severe weather.
  • Is your emergency gear easily accessible? Things like flashlights, candles and emergency radios should be in a place where you can easily grab them once trouble strikes.

Is your home attack proof?

During times of crisis, criminals usually try to take advantage of the situation. You need to be prepared for the possibility of looters and people who are seeking to do you harm.

  • If you don’t have a firearm, you need to consider purchasing one and learning how to use it.
  • You need to make sure your home is fortified to withstand an attack or home invasion.
  • You need to have a plan in place, and everyone in your family should know what to do should a criminal try to enter your home.

Do you have an emergency kit, and will it last at least two weeks?

Most preparedness experts recommend having 72 hours’ worth of emergency supplies; that number is completely wrong. At minimum you need to have a two-week supply of food, water, medicine, and emergency supplies on hand at all times.

  • When stockpiling water you should store 1 gallon per day, per person in the household. You should also know where all the water sources are around your home.
  • Food supplies for a natural disaster are a little different than those for a long-term disaster, as you want to make sure you have plenty of easy to prepare foods that don’t require a lot of cooking.
  • Make sure you have a fully stocked first-aid kit, and if you have medical problems make sure you have extra medication. Check out our article on how to prepare if you have health problems.

Do you have cash on hand?

Even during small-scale disasters, power outages can affect electronic payment systems — making your debit and credit cards completely useless. You should always have some emergency cash on hand. Should you need last minute supplies, or need to rent a hotel room during a temporary evacuation, having cash could become extremely important.

Do you have a way to generate power?

Most natural disasters can have a destructive effect on the power grid. From temporary power outages, to outages that can last for weeks, or even months as we seen after Hurricane Sandy, you need to be prepared to deal with shutdowns in the grid.

  • How to Choose the Right Emergency Generator for Your Home: Our Generator worksheet will help you determine the right size generator for your situation.
  • The Top Portable Solar Panel Chargers for Disasters: Advances in solar technology have made it possible for everyone to have a small emergency solar backup. These small portable devices can help keep things like cell phones, small tablets, flashlights, emergency radios, ham radios, and GPS devices up and running.
  • Make sure you have a way to cook food. I recommend having some sort of outdoor stove or grill so that you can still cook should your power and gas go out.

Are you Psychologically prepared to deal with emergency situations?

Throughout history people have endured many unthinkable hardships. From the arctic explorers who survived being shipwrecked for years in the brutal conditions of the Antarctic, to those who survived the unthinkable conditions in Nazi Germany, the one thing these survivors all had in common was the will to survive.

To truly be prepared to survive any type of disaster, you need to cultivate a mindset that goes far beyond just having the skills and gear to survive.

  • Surviving Traumatic Events starts with developing the Right Mindset: The will to survive is probably the single most important aspect of surviving a traumatic event.
  • Disaster Related PTSD: How to Recover from Disasters and Traumatic Events: Disasters can have severe mental and physical health consequences, developing the proper coping skills and strategies can help get you through even the toughest situations.
  • Prepping without giving into Fear: While aspects of fear can be helpful during certain situations, if you don’t learn how to how to properly control it, it can be a debilitating killer.

Are your family, friends, and children prepared?

During your planning, it’s important to realize you’re not an island. If you have loved ones who live in your home, or people you take care of on a regular basis, these people need to be on board with your plans. An emergency is not the time to start teaching them what they should or shouldn’t do.

Once you have your plans in place, you need to remember to practice and periodically review your procedures to make sure nothing has changed. Conduct drills; ask your family members if they remember where to meet and what to do, make sure your emergency supplies are up-to-date, and stay on top of anything that might require you to rethink or rework your plans.