First hand report from on the ground in Puerto Rico, via Facebook:
It’s 0400 as I write this, can’t sleep again. I keep thinking about what needs to be done. Sure, we have a plan, ration the water, the gasoline, the food. We’ve been very fortunate. We didn’t get flooded, thanks to 4,100 pounds of sand bags. Yes, I’m still sore from humping those heavy things around, securing the house. We have a generator, dry floors, water, canned food and gasoline. We’ll survive this crisis much better than most here on the island. Survive, as in: Live through it.
I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of stories on the news about the storm, but as a former news man, I’m sure that by now we’ve been replaced by Klowe Kardashian’s baby or the latest Hollywood liposuction. But here’s an update of what is really going on in Puerto Rico.
The situation here can only be described as dire. Although we have a generator, we have been using it sparingly as our 6-year-old needs to use her nebulizer at least twice a day, so we use that time to charge batteries, cell phones, keep the fridge cold and the ice frozen. Conserve the reserve, as they say. I don’t want to ramble or be verbose, so I’ll bullet point the issues facing us for clarity.
100% of the power is gone. I’m not saying the power is out, I’m saying that the powerlines are on the ground, snapped, shredded, and displayed at foot level from one end of the island to the other. Replacing the power grid will take months. Each line, pole, relay, and transfer station will need to be fixed or replaced. This island is dark.
95% of all cell service is out. Cars are lined up two lanes deep in places with people just trying to get a cell signal so they can reach their families on the mainland and other parts of the island. However, all communication with the western side is still silent.
90% of the water is at a trickle or less in San Juan, and completely out in most of the island. We are lucky. When the water flows, early in the morning and later at night, we can fill a gallon jug in about 12 minutes. However, the threat of Cholera and other diseases is very real. The water is unsafe.
The curfew has been extended again, until further notice. Very little on this island is moving. We live within a block of a major highway. Usually the night sound is flooded with the rush of traffic, but not now. Now all we hear is the low droning hum of generators. Last night I heard my neighbor’s generator sputter and die as it ran out of fuel. I haven’t heard it since.
Problems we face now:
Fuel. Gas lines are now about 2-3 miles long. People are waiting for hours just for $10 of gasoline. The Puma tank farm has several thousands of gallons of gasoline that supply the city of San Juan, but it’s still under 3 to 4 feet of water and will need to be inspected before any of the gas can be loaded on trucks. But the governor’s office has decreed that the gas will only be available for emergency vehicles, utilities, and government. So as the fuel runs out, generators will sputter and die like my neighbor’s. There is no ETA when the fuel will be available again.
Water. Potable water is running out everywhere. The Governor’s office ordered a price freeze on gasoline and oil, but didn’t include drinking water. In a corner store on Saturday I paid $32 for two 6-packs of Evian as I bought some chips and salsa for my wife and lollipops for my girls. Cash only of course, as there is no internet for the use of a debit or credit card.
Money. This is now a cash only society. People are lined up for hours waiting for an ATM or a bank teller to get money to live on. The cash is running out fast.
Distribution. As the Jones Act of 1920 decreed that all goods to Puerto Rico must come from the United States and carried by United States ships, and as Hurricane Irma took out the ports in Florida, and Hurricane Maria took out the ports in Puerto Rico, getting the necessary supplies in will be very challenging. As of this afternoon, the ports in Puerto Rico were not open and won’t be for at least 3 more days. Distribution centers and Oasis water points haven’t even been set up yet. As the gasoline shortage looms, even the care packages sent from the US can’t be delivered.
Hazards. Trees, road signs, power poles, and other debris still litter all the major though fares throughout the city. There are no street lights and no one directing traffic.
The Stink. This is something not reported by the news agencies. Drowned birds, mice, rats, and other poor creatures killed by the storm have washed into the drains. The rich stench of decomp can be smelled on nearly every corner. The rotting leaves and branches lodged in the gutters and drains have become pervasive.
Fire Ants. As the ground is saturated, the fire ants have sought dryer ground. I have personally had 9 different infestations of fire ants coming from light sockets, outlets, small cracks, door frames and windows as they seek new dry areas to live. I currently have 27 bites on my chest, fingers, arms, and feet from trying to eradicate them from our home.
Looters. The looting has begun. Yachts, boats, and other vessels have been the first target, but we fear that generators, cars and trucks will be next.
Guajataca. The dam may just wipe out the DXC office in Isabela.
I hope this lets you understand the gravity of the situation here in Puerto Rico. The storm devastated this island. As of now, we still have no power and don’t expect it to come back on until sometime after Christmas, and I’m not kidding. We are facing some extreme problems here. Even leaving is impossible as the airline prices have skyrocketed up to more than $3,000 for a one-way ticket to Miami.
[This is from an update the next day]
My cell signal keeps going in and out… mostly out… so I’m not sure when this will actually be sent.
As I said in my last update, disease is going to be a problem. Well… When clearing out some debris on Saturday afternoon, chunks of our neighbor’s roof, cardboard that flew in from who-knows-where, and for some reason lots of Styrofoam, there were pockets of mold already growing. As I didn’t have a mask for protection, since most of the Walgreens and other pharmacies are still closed, I ended up breathing in some of the spores. Now I have Strep Throat. I’ve been taking some antibiotics that were left over from the last time I was sick. Glad we still had them. I’ve had a fever off and on since Sunday night, so yesterday we tried to find a doctor. As most of the offices are closed due to damage, have no fuel for the generator or no generator at all, there are few options.
We found an open hospital at 2200 last night. There were more people in the ER than I could count. Most people were still standing as all the seating had been taken hours ago. They were only taking people much worse off than me. When my wife asked how long it might take, the nurse just said, “Maybe sometime tomorrow.” My wife called another hospital and was lucky enough to have a nurse answer the phone. After a brief conversation, she asked, “How busy is your ER?” the nurse replied, “It’s like the end of the world here. We might not be the only hospital open, but it sure feels like it.” We went back home.
Most hospitals and clinics are still closed. Many of the hospital staff are being sent to other facilities to try and alleviate some of the burden, but lines are still incredibly long.
Even though I still had a fever this morning, to keep the vehicles and generator running, my wife and I were up at 0430 to get in line at the local gas station. $30 per person is all that is allowed. In order to get the gas we needed, we both had to go. We returned home about 0820 and I went back to bed. The gas station opened at 0600. We were 7th in line with gas cans. The line of cars stretched out for 4 blocks by the time made it to the pumps.
Bank lines are worse. They move faster than gas lines, of course, but there are many more people trying to get cash. No internet, no debit card. I’ll be standing in that line tomorrow morning about 0500, but I should be home by lunch.
FEMA has now confiscated all the diesel fuel on the island. They will begin doling it out to hospitals and emergency services later this week. This means that workplaces won’t be able to get any diesel for their generators. Most of the pay checks in San Juan will stop by the end of this week.
Problems at the ports are more serious. The governor is calling for anyone with a Commercial Driver’s License to help distribute the cargo coming off the ships. As cargo arrives, they can only move about 10% of it off the docks as they don’t have near enough drivers. Groceries are arriving, but not getting to the stores. Congress will not suspend the foreign ships restriction to the port either, so everything must first go through Florida to get here.
The airport has been inundated with people trying to leave the island. American Airlines, Southwest, United, and Jet Blue all have waiting lists of more than 2,000 people. Only 10 flights are going out per day. Hundreds of people are camped out in the airport departures area waiting for a ticket, some for more than 2 days now. There is no food or water, other than what they bring or someone can bring them. Most of the airport is without power, so there is no air conditioning either.
I have 9 two liter bottles of water left. Each has a date on the top of when to use it, to make sure we have enough water for the next week. We are running out of drinking water and there are no water points set up yet, so we’re trying to stretch it out as far as we can. The stores haven’t had water for a few days.
I’ll have to cook the rest of the meat we had frozen tonight on the BBQ. Even with a generator, things thaw. We’ve been conserving our fuel as reserves are running low and everything has finally thawed out. We still have lots of canned food, but until the trucks are running again, no one trusts the meats in the stores. There’s no telling how long something may have sat on a shelf during the storm only to be refrozen when the generators kicked in. But sadly, even as many stores are throwing out their rotting foods, many desperate people are rooting through it, looking for something to take home.
Feel free to share this with whomever and however you like. We need all the help we can get.
How to Help
Most organizations are asking for cash, rather than supplies, so they can route help to where it’s needed most more quickly. Here are some of the largest groups with campaigns underway:
- United for Puerto Rico (spearheaded by the First Lady of Puerto Rico)
- Center for Popular Democracy
- Hispanic Federation’s “Unidos” page
- International Medical Corps
- Former U.S. presidents have expanded their One America Appeal to include recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands
- Catholic Relief Services
- Direct Relief
- Save the Children, which focuses specifically on the needs of families and their children.
- Global Giving has a $2 million goal for victims of Hurricane Maria
GoFundMe has also created a hub that includes all campaigns for Hurricane Maria. You can also find campaigns for individual families seeking help for loved ones.