Puerto Rico has gone through a lot in the past couple of weeks. The tiny Caribbean island was buffeted by both Hurricane Irma and Maria, leading to widespread damage and pushing the island's 3.4 million residents to the brink. The island's infrastructure is massively damaged, and 97 percent of residents remain without electricity. Not everyone is ignoring Puerto Rico's plight. An unexpected hero has emerged to help the island's most vulnerable citizens.
It all started with Hurricane Irma.
On Thursday September 7, Hurricane Irma, the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history, swept past Puerto Rico, knocking out power for more than one million of the island’s residents. In the prior day, it had carved a swathe through the rest of the Caribbean, killing 12 people and rendering the tiny island of Barbuda uninhabitable.
Puerto Rico thought it survived the worst.
Granted, nine people were dead, and nearly 50,000 were without potable water, but generators were still working and more than 40 of the island’s hospitals were still operating.
“Puerto Rico escaped. It could have been far worse, they really escaped the brunt,” President Trump remarked later that day.
Then Hurricane Maria came.
Less than two weeks later, another hurricane was headed Puerto Rico’s way, and this time, it was a direct hit. On Wednesday September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall, dumping more than two feet of rain on Puerto Rico.
The storm leveled the island.
Electricity was wiped out. So were communications. The island was without potable water, which meant people didn’t have water to drink, wash, or flush toilets. Buildings were leveled. All the island’s stray dogs were swept away. The airports were out of commission. So were the ports.
Vox put it best: “Hurricane Maria was like a 50-mile-wide tornado that made a direct hit on the island.”
U.S. response was problematic.
Puerto Rico is an American territory, and all its citizens are American citizens, even though they cannot vote in presidential elections. The federal government’s painfully slow response to the growing crisis worsened matters.
FEMA has been slow in getting to the island and President Trump still has yet to visit, even though it’s been more than two weeks since the disaster struck. In comparison, he visited Texas and Florida within two weeks of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.
While government response was floundering, one unlikely hero emerged…