After Harvey and Irma, can a thinly stretched FEMA come through for Puerto Rico?

Ruben Vives, Molly Hennessy-Fiske and Melissa Etehad, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico -- Nibbling on dwindling food stocks, lacking crucial medications, sweltering in half-wrecked homes with only tainted water for washing and barely any for drinking: For many in Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria's aftermath has been even more harrowing than the mighty storm itself.

Amid growing warnings of a potential humanitarian crisis in the Caribbean island territory that is home to 3.4 million U.S. citizens, federal relief efforts were ramping up Wednesday, even as criticism mounted. Among the most urgent priorities were food and water deliveries for isolated, storm-pounded rural communities and distribution of diesel for generators to power vital services such as hospital equipment and sanitation systems.

About 97 percent of the island's residents still lacked power Wednesday, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said, and about half remain without running water.

With recovery efforts entering a second week, the White House is pushing back hard against complaints that the federal government's response in Puerto Rico has been less robust than in hurricane-hammered Texas and Florida.

Officials from President Donald Trump down have cited logistical and geographical challenges in rushing aid to an island territory 1,000 miles from the U.S. mainland.

"We've gotten A-pluses on Texas and on Florida," Trump told reporters on Tuesday. "And we will also on Puerto Rico."

The White House announced plans for Trump to visit the ravaged island next Tuesday, although the extent of planned presidential interaction with local people was not yet clear. Trump generally is most comfortable visiting places where he is likely to be warmly received.

Hurricane Maria, with winds just a whisper short of Category 5 status, tore through the island Sept. 20, less than two weeks after Puerto Rico was sideswiped by monster Hurricane Irma. The already faltering power grid collapsed.

Many see little prospect of life returning to normal any time soon. Daniel Rodriguez, 20, had cows on his mind.

He and his mother drove about an hour west from coastal Rio Grande to wait in line for help in the capital. A cracked wall in their storm-damaged home could give way, he said, and there's a cow pasture right outside.


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