On Friday, Governor Ricardo Rossello and interim director of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority Justo Gonzalez announced that, months after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, only 55 percent of Puerto Rico’s roughly 1.5 million customers have power. That’s a slow crawl from the 50 percent reported in November and a far cry from his October promise to have restored power for 95 percent of the island by now. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told ABC News that they estimate the island will not have full restoration until May.
Fredyson Martinez, vice president of a union that represents workers with Puerto Rico’s power company, has told the Associated Press that progress has slowed in part due to a lack of equipment and supplies. According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reports that restoration is further complicated by “rough terrain” and “an aging infrastructure that was not maintained given the island’s 11-year recession.”
The lack of power has also delayed record-keeping, which has skewed mortality rates, according to the New York Times. Last week, the Times published a report estimating that, based on comparative statistics from previous years, the death toll could be as high as 1,052–a horrific uptick from the Department of Public Safety’s official count of 64, and Trump’s famous early-October brag of 16 deaths.
Trump’s general indifference–waving it off as not a “real catastrophe like Katrina,” literally tossing paper towels at the problem–might even have derailed the recovery process, contributing to the slow grind which has quite possibly contributed to the relatively high mortality rates. Last week, the Washington Post cited a Refugees International report claiming that “thousands of people still lack sustainable access to potable water and electricity and dry, safe places to sleep.”
“[I]t is troubling that it took five days before any senior federal official from 4 the U.S. mainland visited the island to survey the damage,” they add.
“At a time when FEMA was fighting disasters on numerous fronts, the President’s direct engagement would have brought with it the necessary focus, resources, and the ‘get it done’ mentality the disaster warranted. Without that direct engagement, the response quickly ran into challenges and became bogged down in bureaucratic processes that were poorly adapted to the context.”