Aid is dribbling into the small agricultural town of Santa Isabel in southern Puerto Rico, where 20 days after Hurricane Maria crippled the island, water rations remain two bottles per person, per day.
The West Palm Beach-based relief group Eagles Wings Foundation, which has established an incident support center in the 23,000-person city, said Tuesday that while supplies from FEMA and the Puerto Rican Emergency Management Agency are arriving, they’re not enough to sustain people trying to put their lives, and homes, back together in tropical heat with no electricity.
“Just 1,000 citizens got supplies (Monday) out of 23,000,” said Scott Lewis, who founded the non-profit Eagles Wings, which also does business as Pathfinders. “We have been asking for more resources for seven days now.”
The lament is echoed through many rural, mountain, and southern towns outside the capital San Juan that continue to complain of a slow emergency response that is putting people, especially the elderly, in life-threatening situations without medicine or any way to communicate.
As of Tuesday, just 16 percent of Puerto Rico had electricity. About 33 percent of cell phone towers were operational.
Yeovanna Gonzalez, 42, who left her home in the southwest town of Cabo Rojo last week with a one-way ticket to Atlanta, said she has been unable to reach her 63-year-old mother who is diabetic and needs insulin. Without electricity, the supply she had in her refrigerator before Maria is no longer usable.
“I can’t talk to her, she has no way to communicate,” said Gonzalez, who will work her web-based job from Atlanta to send money back to her family. “I don’t know how she is doing.”
Lewis’ team of 15 mostly Palm Beach County residents is gathering information and prioritizing needs, such as those in senior facilities who have no working elevators and only limited hours each day when a generator is running to provide electricity.
On Tuesday, Lewis was scheduled to meet with a national guard official – an appointment he believes he got only by relaying how dire the situation is in handwritten messages to FEMA officials.
“The conditions some of the vulnerable home-bound survivors are living in, borders on human rights violations,” said one message sent Sunday. “The lack of response to the number of submitted requests for support and/or supplies is negligent.”
House Speaker Paul Ryan plans to visit Puerto Rico on Friday to view hurricane devastation first-hand as Congress weighs more aid for the storm-battered island, the Associated Press reported.
The House is expected to vote this week on an emergency spending package including billions more in relief for Puerto Rico, Texas and Florida in the wake of a series of deadly storms.
He will find some small progress. The southern Port of Ponce is open, although only for boats with a draft less than 38 feet, said Coast Guard Lt. Commander Ryan Kelley.
FEMA said it was air-dropping supplies Tuesday to several central and southern cities including Juana Diaz, Coamo and Orocovis. The Army Corps of Engineers announced Monday it awarded its first contract to a company that will help repair the island’s mangled power grid.
The $35.1 million contract went to Pennsylvania-based Weston Solutions, which will work on the Palo Seco Plant, one of the main power providers to the city of San Juan. The website Status.pr, which updates what’s open and working, showed 78 percent of gas stations, 86 percent of supermarkets, 56 percent of banks and 92 percent of post offices were operational Tuesday.
But hours-long lines persist, and supplies are minimal.
“You still have people scrounging for stuff. It doesn’t make sense,” said Victor Hernandez, a native of Puerto Rico and South Palm Beach resident who went to the island after Maria to try to help speed relief efforts.
Hernandez was able to make a call Tuesday to relay what he is seeing because he was driving near San Juan where cell service is spotty, but available in some places.
“It feels like to me that we are already becoming old news but it’s getting worse by the day,” he said.
The Palm Beach Post’s weather reporter, Kimberly Miller, and multimedia journalist Thomas Cordy were in Puerto Rico for five days to chronicle the recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.