Puerto Rico: Mayor of San Juan in tears as she describes Hurricane Maria humanitarian crisis

Carmen Yulín Cruz says the US territory and its inhabitants, who are American citizens, are in a 'life and death' struggle

Jon Sharman
Wednesday 27 September 2017 13:22 BST
Puerto Rico mayor weeps on TV: "The worst fear is that we cannot get to everyone in time"

The mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico’s hurricane-stricken capital, broke down in an interview as she described the humanitarian crisis on the island, saying: “People are starting to die.”

Carmen Yulín Cruz said the US territory and its inhabitants, who are American citizens, are in a “life and death” struggle.

More than a million people on the Caribbean island lack drinking water and the whole territory is without power.

Ms Yulín Cruz told WUSA-9 television: “I know that leaders aren’t supposed to cry and especially not on TV, but we are having a humanitarian crisis.

“It’s life or death, every moment we spend planning in a meeting or every moment we spend just not getting the help we’re supposed to get, people are starting to die.”

She earlier admitted that island officials “need to get our s*** together because people are dying”.

Ms Yulín Cruz has praised the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) response, saying aid was now starting to reach the island.

Donald Trump, who has faced criticism he has not paid enough attention to the crisis, is due to visit Puerto Rico next Tuesday.

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While the issue has not dominated his Twitter feed in the same way as the controversy over national anthem protests in the NFL, he has pledged Puerto Rico will “be back” thanks to government help.

On Tuesday he said: “We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico and we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis. But that island was hit as hard as you could hit.”

At least 16 people were killed on Puerto Rico when Maria tore through the region on 20 September.

The recovery in the first week since the storm has largely been a do-it-yourself affair, it was reported. People collected water from wells and streams, cleared roads and repaired their own homes when they were not waiting in day-long lines for gasoline and diesel.

For most, the only visible sign of authority were police officers directing traffic, a critical service because traffic lights are out across the island.

However, there are several thousand US federal employees in Puerto Rico helping with the recovery effort. They are most visible in San Juan, where officials from Fema, Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection have a presence at hotels that before the storm served tourists in the Condado neighbourhood or at the convention centre that has become a staging ground for relief efforts.

They supplied diesel to generators at hospitals and delivered desperately needed food and water to hard-hit communities across the island.

They have repaired the air traffic control systems and power at the airport, which is receiving about 100 flights a day but is still far from normal operations. US agents have also provided security across the island and the Coast Guard has worked with local authorities to restore the sea ports, a vital link because Puerto Rico is almost completely dependent on imports.

In addition, teams from the Army Corps of Engineers are helping to repair the electricity grid and to inspect and look for ways to avert the collapse of a dam near the western town of Quebradillas that has developed a crack and that officials have said could potentially fail.

Personnel from Health and Human Services, the Department of Defence and Veterans Affairs have provided care and helped evacuate people from Puerto Rico with chronic medical conditions.

Additional reporting by agencies

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