The Public, Government and Media All But Ignore the Catastrophe of Our Caribbean Colony
It’s as if the populations of Dallas and Houston were all cut off from the rest of the country with no electricity and dwindling supplies of water, food and medicines. It’s as if Los Angeles suffered a massive earthquake and barely rated a mention on network news shows. It’s as if one giant Katrina had inundated every major coastal city from Miami to Washington.
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is reverting to the 19th Century. Looting has begun. At least 13 people are dead.
The coastal town of Manati has run out of fuel and fresh water. “Hysteria is starting to spread,” said Mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez. “The hospital is about to collapse. It’s at capacity. We need someone to help us immediately.”
“There is horror in the streets,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told The Washington Post.
But the unfolding tragedy is barely registering on the mainland. The five major Sunday public-affairs talk shows gave the Puerto Rico story a total of just one minute this weekend. A DCReport.org survey of the three top newspapers—The New York Times, the Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times—found twice as many story mentions of Mexico, which suffered a major earthquake, than mentions of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory.
CNN’s Miranda Green noted that over the weekend, Trump posted 12 tweets about the NFL and NBA, two about North Korea and none about Puerto Rico.
Hillary Clinton said Trump should send in the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, a floating hospital. “These are American citizens,” Clinton said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, whose state is home to millions of people of Puerto Rican descent, toured the island Friday and said the federal response for Puerto Rico has been less than was done in Texas and Florida after the hurricanes. “We have to help Puerto Rico with the same urgency,” Cuomo said.
Trump was preoccupied Sunday with football, calling for fans to boycott N.F.L. games unless the league fires or suspends players who refuse to stand for the national anthem.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency, in charge of the relief effort, is using the luxury resort La Concha as its headquarters. Workers at the hotel, owned by billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson, a Trump supporter, were turning people away who were trying to get in the lobby to charge their phones.
Much of the island is without cell phone service. About 1,360 of Puerto Rico’s 1,600 cell phone towers are downed. People were driving miles to try to get a signal to call relatives and friends in the continental United States to say they were alive.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello met with distraught mayors. “This is, without a doubt, the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico,” Rossello said.
In Utuado, 65 miles southwest of the capital, people were collecting water from mountain springs because there now is no running water. Relatives of three bedridden sisters who died in a mudslide had been unable to retrieve their bodies.
The islands of Vieques and Culebra were stranded without ferry service.
Cruz, the San Juan mayor, said peoples’ eyes are glazed, thinking of the difficulty of what will come. Hospitals may not regain electricity for three months, and the rest of the island will be without for longer.
“Do not forget us,” she said. “Do not let us feel alone.”