Two weeks ago and one week after Maria had hit, the remarkable mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz, begged America for help. “We are dying here. I cannot fathom the thought that the greatest nation in the world cannot figure out the logistics for a small island of 100 miles by 35 miles. So, mayday, we are in trouble…Mr. Trump, I am begging you to take charge and save lives…If not, the world will see how we are treated not as second-class citizens but as animals that can be disposed of. Enough is enough.” She continued that, if the recovery effort and coordination did not improve, “what we are going to see is something close to a genocide.”
I have to admit that I initially thought that Cruz’s comment about genocide was a stretch of hyperbole. But, unfortunately, it is turning out to be more truth than exaggeration. Yesterday, the Trump-praising Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, reported that the death toll had increased to 45, including two recent deaths of leptospirosis which comes from drinking contaminated water. In addition, at least five other patients are being treated for the disease.
Leptospirosis is a very treatable disease that requires simply a dose of penicillin or, at worst, for treatments of advanced cases, an intravenous dose of antibiotics. But, perhaps even slightly less disturbing than the report of these unnecessary deaths is that they occurred while the two were in hospital. The fact that the hospital was unable to properly treat these victims, presumably through lack of available drugs, is even more disturbing when we realize that a US hospital ship that is equipped to handle virtually every medical emergency in sitting in San Juan harbor and has only six patients.
Yesterday, the EPA put out a warning that says, “There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste ‘Superfund’ sites in Puerto Rico”. In classic bureaucratic understatement, the agency advised against “tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health.”
About 40% of the island still does not have access to safe drinking water. 85% of the island is still without power. Around one quarter of the grocery stores are still closed. There is not enough food, water, and fuel to go around. And the potential for further and more serious disease outbreaks is high. Untreated sewage is still being dumped into the island’s waterways because of the lack of power.
In addition, it is clear that the reported death toll is simply not credible. Vox is reporting that there are at least 36 other confirmed deaths. More staggeringly, however, is the fact that there are over 350 dead being held at the Institute of Forensic Sciences waiting to be autopsied. One Puerto Rico investigative newspaper reported that nearly 70 hospital morgues were at capacity. Vox estimates that, all told, there are at least another 450 unreported deaths. In addition, an incredible 69 people are still missing.
The government’s response to this crisis is criminal. Where are the massive helicopter airlifts to drop necessary food, water, and medicines to the parts of the island still cut off. Where is the massive deployment of generators and fuel to keep critical infrastructure like hospitals and water treatment plants running. Where is the coordination to keep people from dying from a treatable disease when a hospital designed to deal with situations just like this is just a few miles away. We all know the US military is capable of these efforts. After all, we’ve spent the last two decades perfecting nation-building. But the Trump administration will barely lift a finger to help, preferring instead to play its game of racist identity politics. And its Republican colleagues in Congress are silent in complicity.
This morning, the moron in chief tweeted, “‘Puerto Rico survived the Hurricanes, now a financial crisis looms largely of their own making.’ says Sharyl Attkisson. A total lack of accountability say the Governor. Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes. Congress to decide how much to spend. We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
Sanjay Gupta said this after his visit to Puerto Rico, “There may be tens of thousands of hardy people who survived the hurricane and are now struggling to stay alive in its aftermath. They are teetering on the edge, with hardly any reserve.” And now Donald Trump wants to walk away and essentially let those people die. To call it genocide is still hyperbole, but it’s something damn close.
Originally published at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com on October 12, 2017.