Lost in all the discussion of bellicose tweets and NFL pre-game ceremonies is the situation impacting American citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Hurricanes Irma and Maria have caused massive destruction and created a crisis that imperils our fellow citizens.
Without distracting from the damage caused and lives lost primarily in Texas, Louisiana and Florida from hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the islands are in horrible shape. A truism of this situation is that when one lives on an island, there is no place to hide. The damage to infrastructure throughout the area impedes the ability to get into many areas on the islands. Only now, roughly five days after the second hurricane passed through have the authorities been able to more fully assess the damage. As the full scope of the devastation becomes clear, Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello called the situation “apocalyptic.” And many areas have yet to be reached.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is doing what it can, but with the massive commitment of resources to the aftermath of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma on the mainland, they are limited in what they can do immediately. Coupled with the loss of meaningful communications outside of San Juan and the destruction of interior roads, it is not only difficult to assess the need, but also to reach those in need.
Most of us know that in the case of a natural disaster we should have five days of food, water, gasoline and money to hold us over until help can arrive. It is now past that “hold-over” period and most of the impacted islands have no power — which is needed to pump gas, pump water, and operate ATM’s — and food is scarce. The few available generators are running out of fuel. Many necessities come from off of the islands in the best of times. Now that the hurricanes have destroyed all of the crops on these islands, nearly 100% of basic needs will need to be shipped or flown into the area. Power companies from as far away as Maine and Nebraska poured trucks and resources into helping out in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and elsewhere. Obviously, they cannot do the same for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Without outside help, those struggling to restore order and work to regain normalcy are overwhelmed.
Help is slowly arriving, not only from FEMA but also from the Army Reserves and the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Coast Guard. It is a difficult situation. Civilian charitable organizations are going to play a big part in helping the residents to survive in the short-term and to rebuild for the long haul.
If you can help, please contribute to the charity of your choice and designate your contribution to be used in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands. This link to Charity Navigator gives some tips to make sure your donation does the most good and to check and see that a particular charity puts your donation to work rather than for salaries, professional fund-raising and administration. Thank you.