October 17, 2017

The USNS Comfort, a floating state-of-the-art hospital, is anchored off the coast of hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, with 250 hospital beds for patients in the U.S. territory unable be served by overcrowded hospitals and clinics lacking supplies and reliable electricity. Only 33 of those beds, or 13 percent, are filled, CNN reports, two weeks after the Comfort's arrival. The problem, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CNN, is "the communication flow" between clinics, doctors, and Puerto Rico's Department of Health. "I asked for a complete revision of that so that we can now start sending more patients over there," he said.

"I know that we have capacity," Capt. Kevin Robinson, the Comfort's mission commander, tells CNN. "I know that we have the capability to help. What the situation on the ground is ... that's not in my lane to make a decision."

Almost a month after Hurricane Maria crawled across Puerto Rico, 86 percent of the island has no electricity, 28 percent has no drinking water, most cell towers and antennas are down, and the official death toll stands at 48. President Trump's approval rating on hurricane response has dropped 20 points from mid-September, according to a CNN poll conducted Oct. 12-15, to 44 percent from 64 percent after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey. A 47 percent plurality now disapprove of Trump's hurricane response, the poll found, and his hurricane approval number among Hispanics is 22 percent. The national poll of 1,010 adults has a margin of sampling error of ±3.5 points. Peter Weber

October 11, 2017

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 85 percent of the U.S. territory doesn't have power, 40 percent of residents don't have drinkable water, and with so many homes destroyed and conditions improving at a slow pace, tens of thousands of Puerto Ricans have fled to the continental U.S., some of them probably permanently. The Trump administration let its Jones Act waiver lapse on Sunday night, with no plans to reinstate it, and Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told CBS News correspondent David Begnaud on Tuesday that he would prefer the shipping restrictions be lifted again, because "at this juncture, why not use all the tools available?"

The death toll from the hurricane is officially about 34, though it's probably higher, and Rosselló told Begnaud he's really worried about a public health crisis tied to contaminated water. At least two people have died from the bacterial infection leptospirosis and at least five others are being treated for symptoms.

"It's really hard to find clean drinking water on this island," Begnaud said in his report Tuesday night. Rosselló "has taken it delicately, I would say, with FEMA and his federal partners. He's given credit to FEMA and the federal government, President Trump specifically, for helping him out, but whatever help is being given is not happening enough, that's the bottom line. It's three weeks since this hurricane, and there's not enough water on this island, that people so desperately need."

"What do you want from your government?" Begnaud asked local police officer Daniel Pacheco. "Just to show up," he said. "We're just asking for people to move the gas, people to move the food." Peter Weber

October 9, 2017
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Puerto Rico's official death toll from Hurricane Maria is, as of this writing, 36 — but that number may be far too low. BuzzFeed News journalists who spoke to funeral home directors in San Juan as well as two small towns in the island's interior report there are "significantly more corpses" with storm-related deaths than have been counted by the government.

In San Juan specifically, there are "dozens of bodies" at four funeral homes which are not included in the official tally. How many of those deaths are storm-related is unknown.

The situation is more complicated still in smaller towns far from the coast, where thousands of people remain internally displaced and medical services are under-supplied and overworked. Many hospitals remain "without electricity and communications, reliant on generators and running short of vital medications," the Los Angeles Times reports, more than two weeks after Maria made landfall. That means additional indirect storm deaths continue to be a real possibility, especially in isolated communities.

While BuzzFeed's report notes a comparatively low death toll has been a point of pride for President Trump, much of the disparity between the official count and the reality on the ground is likely due to poor communications capabilities. About 95 percent of the territory is still without electricity, which makes an accurate number difficult to determine. Bonnie Kristian

October 4, 2017

President Trump's whirlwind visit to Puerto Rico on Tuesday resulted in gaffes such as Trump telling a homeowner without electricity to "have a good time" and pretending to shoot hoops with paper towel rolls.

Perhaps most of all, Trump was baffled by aid work in the U.S. territory. "Flashlights. You don't need 'em anymore," he told a crowd in a chapel, despite the fact that 95 percent of the island is still without power. He was particularly bewildered by water purification techniques, which are essential to islanders' survival due to the fact that many parts of Puerto Rico remain without drinkable water:

"Yes, she'd drink it, because it's the only water she has," Stephen Colbert quipped on The Late Show. "Just like she's only talking to you because you're the only president we got." Read the full report at The Washington Post, and read Paul Waldman on what it's like to have a president "utterly devoid of empathy" here at The Week. Jeva Lange

October 4, 2017

President Trump promised relief for debt-wracked and hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday, although he was not clear on specifics. "We're going to do something," Trump told Fox News' Geraldo Rivera on Hannity. "We're going to get it back on its feet."

Puerto Rico's $73 billion in debt stems from a recession that began in 2006, and complications with the fact that by virtue of being a territory, the island cannot invoke bankruptcy. It isn't clear if the federal government can simply erase what San Juan owes, especially as the debt is held by a constellation of sources, ranging from "big hedge funds" to "middle-class Puerto Ricans who thought it would make a safe retirement nest egg," The New York Times writes.

"You know, they owe a lot of money to your friends on Wall Street, and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump told Rivera. "You can say goodbye to that. I don't know if it's Goldman Sachs, but whoever it is, you can wave goodbye to that." Jeva Lange

October 3, 2017
Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello announced Tuesday night that the death toll there from Hurricane Maria has risen from 16 to 34.

The U.S. territory is still reeling from the devastating hurricane that hit on Sept. 20 — the governor's office said 95 percent of the island remains without power and just 47 percent of water customers have access to clean drinking water.

President Trump visited San Juan earlier Tuesday, and said that "every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina, and you look at the hundreds and hundreds of people that died ... you can be very proud [the death toll is] 16 people versus in the thousands." Rossello later said he believes that after flying over Puerto Rico and looking at the damage, Trump better understands how much destruction Maria caused, ABC News reports. Catherine Garcia

October 3, 2017

President Trump hucked rolls of paper towels into a crowd of Puerto Ricans on Tuesday "like he was taking basketball jump shots," delivering — however crude the method — badly needed aid to the locals, many of whom are still without electricity or drinkable water after Hurricane Maria.

"Trump, still wearing his wind breaker, shook hands with the enthusiastic crowd along with the first lady and the governor," one pool report recounted of Trump's stop at Calvary Chapel in Guaynabo. "He picked up a can of tinned chicken breast and held it aloft for the crowd to see. He handed one man in the crowd a pack of batteries … He held up a flashlight and showed it to the crowd, shaking hands the whole time."

In addition to throwing paper towels to Puerto Ricans and complimenting local officials for not recreating Hurricane Katrina, Trump also visited some hurricane victims' homes. "We have a good house, thank God," one islander told Trump, showing the president the damage.

"In the meantime, here you are," Trump observed, adding: "We're going to help you out. Have a good time." Jeva Lange

October 3, 2017

International aid organization Oxfam has taken the "rare step of intervening in an American disaster" by responding to the crisis in Puerto Rico, The Associated Press writes. "Oxfam has monitored the response in Puerto Rico closely, and we are outraged at the slow and inadequate response the U.S. government has mounted in Puerto Rico," said Oxfam America President Abby Maxman. "Clean water, food, fuel, electricity, and health care are in desperately short supply and quickly dwindling, and we're hearing excuses and criticism from the administration instead of a cohesive and compassionate response."

President Trump traveled to Puerto Rico on Tuesday to meet with government officials and aid workers. Prior to departing Washington, D.C., he told reporters he gives his administration an "A+" for their response to Hurricane Maria. Many in Puerto Rico have been critical of the White House's response, however: Two weeks after the storm, 95 percent of the territory remains without electricity and many are struggling to get potable water and fresh food.

"Oxfam has a long history of holding governments, including in the U.S., accountable to protect the most vulnerable in times of crisis," Scott Paul, the humanitarian policy lead for Oxfam America, told CNN. "Sometimes, that means helping them hold the government accountable, and in Puerto Rico, accountability is sorely needed." Jeva Lange

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