It’s been eight days since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico and 90 percent of the U.S. island still doesn’t have power.
One local doctor told NBC News that the once-tropical paradise has “turned into hell” in the last week.
Forty-four percent of residents — some 1.5 million people — are still without clean drinking water. Bottled water is scarce and even when a new shipment makes it to a store, the lines are long. Supermarkets were gradually reopening but barely had anything to sell.
Most food stores and restaurants remain closed, largely because power is out for most of the island and few have generators or enough diesel to power them. The shops that were open Monday had long lines outside and vast empty shelves where they once held milk, meat and other perishables. Drinking water was nowhere to be found.
Banks and ATM machines are running out of cash and without electricity or cell service, credit cards have been rendered worthless.
“Demand for cash is extraordinarily high right now, and will evolve as depository institutions regain power, armored car services are able to reach branches, and ATMs are once again active,” the New York Fed said in a statement on Puerto Rico. “We are coordinating with local and national authorities to monitor the situation on the ground very closely, and are actively preparing to meet any sustained elevated currency demand in the future.”
Brittany Lukowsky moved to the island from Brooklyn, New York, four years ago. “I have no f—— money,” she cried to CNN reporter Bill Weir. “They won’t let us get money and I can’t use my debit card. We’re all screwed.”
Without hesitation, he pulled a wad of cash from his pocket and handed it to her.
On Thursday thousands of containers full of aid sat undelivered in the island’s main port due to a lack of truck drivers, fuel and blocked roads.
The vice president of Crowley Shipping, Jose Ayala, was emotional during an interview with CNN. “The frustration of knowing that right now, right now, there’s a person in need of medicine,” he said. “That right now, babies, children, don’t have a bottle of water. And it’s here. It’s in Puerto Rico.”
Before the hurricane nearly half of the island’s population was living below the poverty line. Many families relied on farming and other natural resources for food. But the storm wiped out almost all the avocado, banana and plantain trees along with the majority of other crops.
According to local officials, millions of people living in rural towns are running out of food. Unless aid reaches them soon, they could die.
— Antonio Paris (@AntonioParis) September 29, 2017
“I’m getting desperate. This is no way to live, really. They should bring us water. Other supplies — because the kids keep asking,” said resident Maria Rosario.
CNN interviewed a man standing in line for water who said he was angry with the lack of response by the National Guard. “People have shortage of food. The National Guard is not working up to the way it should be,” he said. “They are all just standing there and doing nothing.”
Lyvia Rodriguez is a community leader in San Juan. She said that from what she’s seen so far, the federal government isn’t doing enough. “People are already finishing up their stacks of food,” she said. “There’s a lot of people in the community that are wondering if FEMA is going to come?”
A woman living on the northern tip of the island told said she hasn’t seen anyone from either the Puerto Rican or federal government. “People say FEMA is going to help us,” she said. “We’re waiting.”
According to a report by The Washington Post, the federal government responded faster and provided more aid to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010.
On Thursday, House Speaker Paul Ryan announced that the government was adding another $6.7 billion to FEMA’s disaster-relief accoun,t and CNN reported that the Pentagon sent a three-star general to the island along with several thousand more troops. They arrived late Thursday night.
Thomas Bossert, Trump’s homeland security adviser said there were more than 10,000 federal personnel already on the island, including 7,200 troops.