On Wednesday, September 20, Hurricane Maria made a direct hit to Puerto Rico– virtually destroying most of its infrastructure and plunging Puerto Ricans into a humanitarian crisis. About 97% of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million population is without power, and about half without running water. Let’s not forget that these are American citizens we are talking about.
The Trump Administration’s response has been significantly slower and less effective than the response to Hurricane Harvey and Irma. President Trump tweeted about the situation on Monday, stating that,“Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with.”
His lack of empathy towards a U.S. territory struggling to survive following a disaster is alarming, even for him. Focusing on the massive debt held by Puerto Rico, whose economy is now even more ravaged than it was before, is just cruel but unacceptable.
Gov. Ricardo Rossell of Puerto Rico urged Congress to approve a commensurate aid package. A week after the hurricane, FEMA put out a statement that they have airplanes and ships loaded with meals, water and generators headed to the island.
In addition to the ongoing crisis, the Guajataca Dam in the island’s northwest corner has suffered a “critical infrastructure failure,” which poses immediate flooding threats to about 70,000 people. While the majority of residents in the potential flood zone have evacuated, efforts are being made to evacuate periphery areas.
The path for Puerto Rico ahead is uncertain. Its power grid is almost entirely wiped out, and has proven to lack resilience. Many experts on disaster response urge for the opportunity to be taken to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid from the ground up– a project that would require billions of dollars.
Not to mention, there are 23 Superfund sites on the island that likely have contaminated soil and groundwater. Unexploded bombs, bullets, and projectiles are among the toxic contents of these Superfund sites, specifically on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques which was used by the military as a bomb-test site.
In the southern coastal town of Guayama, a five-story pile of coal ash has been sitting next to a low-income, minority community of 45,000 people. This ash contains heavy metals such as arsenic, mercury, and chromium. The company responsible is Applied Energy Systems (AES), which was ordered to remove the pile prior to the hurricane but whether this was done is unclear. It is highly likely that this toxic ash has contaminated the surrounding land water sources.
At this point, we must continue to urge the U.S. government to provide ongoing aid to our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico. Be sure to check back with CHEJ on the front of environmental justice for Puerto Ricans following this humanitarian disaster.
Click on the below link to see how you can help the victims of Hurricane Maria:
By Gregory Kolen II. Environmental justice is an issue that affects everyone, but those who bear the brunt of it are often the most vulnerable