On Sept. 13, the National Hurricane Center began monitoring a tropical wave in the Atlantic Ocean. Three days later, that wave morphed into a tropical storm, and two days after that, its wind-speed had doubled from 80 mph to 160 mph, giving way to Category 5 Hurricane Maria. The following day, it slammed into Dominica, killing 27 people. Though it had been downgraded to a Category 4 by the time it made landfall in Puerto Rico, it still managed to devastate the island nation, killing 24 people and causing upwards of $50 billion in property damage, on top of the $1 billion in property damage caused by Hurricane Irma just two weeks prior.
The extent of the destruction more than warranted an immediate response from the United States, especially considering Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory. Unfortunately, President Donald Trump has spent the past week turning far more of his attention to harmless protests by professional football players than the Puerto Rican residents barely hanging on by a thread.
We at The New Paltz Oracle urge Trump to take stronger action to aid the people of Puerto Rico in the wake of this colossal tragedy. Hurricane Maria is the tenth-most intense hurricane to come from the Atlantic Ocean, with a lowest central pressure of 908 millibars. As of Sept. 25, nearly the entire island, composed of almost 3.5 million people, is without electricity, since Puerto Rico’s electrical grid already had little time to recover from Hurricane Irma. According to ABC News, more than half of Puerto Rican residents have been left without drinkable water, and grocery stores across the nation remain closed due to the lack of power.
On Sept. 26, Trump, following heavy criticism for his silence, tweeted out about Puerto Rico, but his tweets focused far more on the territory’s “broken infrastructure & massive debt,” adding that it owes billions of dollars to Wall Street and “sadly, must be dealt with.” For the President of the United States to suggest that Puerto Rico is some sort of burden to the U.S. is not only wildly unprofessional, it’s downright unconscionable.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), meanwhile, has been trying its hardest to deliver whatever relief it can to Puerto Rico, but MSNBC reported on Tuesday that FEMA aid still hadn’t reached “certain centralized locations of Puerto Rico.” According to The Miami Herald, FEMA currently has roughly $5 billion in uncommitted disaster relief funds, though it will need much more than that in order to effectively administer disaster relief. This doesn’t even take into consideration the additional costs incurred by FEMA’s post-Irma relief efforts in Florida.
To his credit, Trump did announce on Tuesday that he would be visiting Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands next week. FEMA Director Brock Long also announced the Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort would be sent to Puerto Rico within the next four days. But for many, it’s too little, too late. It’s been over a week since Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, and Trump hasn’t done so much as temporarily suspend the Jones Act (also known as the Merchant Marine Act of 1920). This suspension would temporarily allow foreign ships to use Puerto Rican ports to deliver aid; if we’re not going to respond effectively or promptly, we should at least be giving outside entities the authorization to do what this administration seems to be terrible at.
At a certain point, one begins to question whether or not Trump even knew that Puerto Rico is controlled by the United States. Regardless, he’s made it clear this week that his priorities lie more with the threat of peaceful protest in the National Football League than with the victims of one of the worst natural disasters to occur this year. That is why we at The New Paltz Oracle believe that if Trump truly wants to make America great again, he must address the needs of all Americans, not just those officially incorporated into the United States.