Commentary: Helping hands needed to resolve damage in Puerto Rico

National Guard

A member of Puerto Rico’s National Guard packs boxes of ration meals to be sent to Puerto Rican families that were affected by Hurricane Maria.

With Puerto Rico in ruin after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the U.S. province, it is questionable if the island will ever be the same again. 

A U.S. Defense Department’s military liaison with FEMA, Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, told PBS that conditions in Puerto Rico are the worst he has ever seen. Thousands of people need food, water and medical supplies, but many roads need to be cleared first, Buchanan said. 

The New York Times (NYT) published photos of the destruction that its journalists captured in a single day. The images show hundreds of cars backed up on roadways waiting for gas; houses imploded and reduced to rubble; people wading through flooded streets; power outages; and a ravaged countryside. 

Federal aid and assistance is coming, but when San Juan Mayor Carmen 

Yulin Cruz questioned the government’s response, President Donald Trump met her with criticism via Twitter. Trump slammed Cruz with accusations of poor leadership and said the people of Puerto Rico should do more to help themselves. Trump probably would have sent more attacks via Twitter if he was not already busy patting his own back for his impeccable leadership. 

“They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort,” Trump wrote, accord- ing to NYT. “10,000 federal workers now on island do- ing a fantastic job. The military and first responders, despite no electric, roads, phones etc., have done an amazing job. Puerto Rico was totally destroyed.” 

Puerto Rico was destroyed. But it is the Puerto Ricans who need to pull themselves up by their bootstraps and work hard- er? You cannot rebuild a country when you are struggling to survive from day to day. As power grids are still out of commission, hospitals are relying on scarce fuel for generators to help hordes of injured people, The Washington Post and Newsweek reported. 

While Puerto Rico is an American territory, it hardly resembles any other place in the country. The median household income in 2010 was $19,518, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is in stark contrast to Pennsylvania’s median household income for the same year, which comes in at $53,599. The hurricane hit states of Texas and Florida come in at $53,207 and $47,507, respectively. 

What do these numbers really mean in relevance to Puerto Rico? Simply, the wealth and financial means of Americans in Puerto Rico is less than half of that of Americans who endured similar circumstances. That’s less money for food, fuel and fleeing disaster areas. Yet when Cruz asks for more help, she is backhandedly given moral support and little else. 

There is no question that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military are working hard to help Puerto Rico. But is it enough? How quickly will the rest of the country forget about Puerto Rico’s suffering and move on? 

Never forget that Puerto Ricans are Americans and they need to be helped just as much as any Texan or Floridian who underwent the same hell.

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