Maria has left Puerto Rico like a war zone: Army official

The devastation, the imposing cloud of an oncoming humanitarian crisis and the long road to recovery in Puerto Rico are reminiscent of the work left in the wake of a war zone, according to a top official with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Col. James DeLapp, commander of the Recovery Field Office for Puerto Rico at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers told Vox on Saturday that the damage to the island’s infrastructure and other logistical issues remind him of Iraq following the 2003 U.S. invasion.

“We had a very similar situation following the opening of the Iraq War,” DeLapp told the site. “This is very reminiscent of that type of effort.”

Restoring power to the island’s 3.4 million residents will take a herculean effort after years of neglect from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, officials said.

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“PREPA, as they’ve described it, 80% of infrastructure is down, meaning literally on the ground,” said DeLapp.

Workers are hampered by the same impassable roads and fuel shortages that are slowing the delivery of basic necessities for Puerto Ricans across the Caribbean island.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz was attacked by Trump on Twitter over her “leadership ability.”

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Eleven days after being pummeled by Hurricane Maria, millions in the U.S. territory remain without electricity, water or medical care.

Residents are suffering through 90-degree weather and weekend rains that are expected to drop 2-4 inches of water on the already soaked island.

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“We need to do a lot more in order for us to get out of the emergency,” Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said in San Juan on Saturday.

While there were glimmers of hope over the weekend that aid was beginning to reach those in need, there were still dramatic signs of the long road ahead and the immediate suffering that were impossible to ignore.

In Loíza, residents waited for more than 10 hours on Friday for gas. The town’s deputy mayor, Luis Escobar, told CNN that a sad cycle was becoming a daily routine.

“No fuel, no work, no money,” he said.

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Airports on the island continued to increase the number of flights in and out over the weekend, but there remained limited access to gas, cash and cellphone service.

Only 714 of 1,100 gas stations are open, according officials. A little under half of the island’s 456 supermarkets have reopened, but many are understocked as supplies remain stuck in port or at airfields due to a dearth of drivers, fuel and passable roads.

Only 10% of cellphone towers are working.

In Maria’s wake, hospitals and their employees are wrestling with the same shortages of basic necessities as everyone else.

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The elderly and those with young children are especially vulnerable, experts said.

“Whenever there is a disaster that impacts an area to the degree that this one has, then yes, people’s lives are going to be in danger,” said Dr. James Lapkoff, an emergency room doctor in Waynesville, N.C., who went to the island with officials from the Department of Health and Human Services.

Only a handful of Puerto Rico’s 63 hospitals have generators operating at full power.

Even those with some power have been placed in a precarious position due to the shortage of diesel. Dozens of critically ill patients have been airlifted off of the island.

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The Military Sealift Command hospital ship USNS Comfort, with 522 medical personnel and support staff, along with 70 civil service mariners, is expected to arrive within the next two days, officials said.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worker looks on while a bulldozer removes dirt fof a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Comerio, Puerto Rico.

A U.S. Army Corps of Engineers worker looks on while a bulldozer removes dirt fof a road in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in Comerio, Puerto Rico.


Puerto Rico’s antiquated electrical system could remain out for months, making it one of the most challenging tasks facing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other officials.

“It was a catastrophic storm … to the point that concrete transmission lines were knocked down and destroyed,” said John Rabin, acting regional administrator for FEMA’s Region II, which includes Puerto Rico, on Friday. “Transmission is going to have to be rebuilt throughout the entire island.”

Maria, the most powerful storm to strike Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, killed at least 16 people, according to the official death toll.

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But critics fear that number will rise and say the slow federal response has only added to the catastrophe.

San Juan resident Judith Berkan said power shortages and long lines for cash, food, gasoline and medical clinics were wearing people down.

“Things don’t seem to be getting better,” Berkan, a lawyer, told the Associated Press. “Although there are great moments of solidarity on the ground here, you can also see that patience is growing thin.”

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Earlier Saturday, President Trump took to Twitter to criticize San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and the “leadership ability” of some in Puerto Rico who “want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.”

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Cruz criticized the distribution of aid and said the feds needed to do more.

At a news conference, Rossello declined to comment on Trump’s tweets, which he said he had not seen.

“Let me stress this: I am committed to collaborating with everybody,” he said. “This is a point where we can’t look at small differences and establish differences based on politics.”

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Source: Ny Daily News

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