The Crisis in the Caribbean: How To Help Puerto Rico and the U.S.V.I.

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Visions of catastrophe in U.S. Caribbean territories first arrived through satellite images of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. With power grids and roads destroyed, information has been slow coming. Given that the Trump administration's response has been fatally inconsistent and delayed, relief in the wake of this catastrophe has also been slow coming for the millions of Americans who call these islands their home.

Puerto Ricans are still dying because of power outages and drug shortages. Essentials like food and clean water have been arriving in the main ports, but inland communities are largely cut off. Supplies positioned inland before the storm were wiped out along with infrastructure. Blocked and ruined roads prevent new supplies from being shipped in.

These are immediate problems, but to understand the the territories’ long-term needs, one needs perspective on the extent of the damage.

Understanding The Extent of The Crisis in Puerto Rico

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, 100 percent of the island lost power, but as of Saturday that number was down to…95 percent. Yes. 95 percent of Puerto Rico was still without power as of reports on Saturday. And in many places on the island, there is no clean water access without power. 55 percent of the population had no clean drinking water as of Saturday. Officials say it could take six to eight months to restore the grid.

Parts of Puerto Rico saw 30 inches of rain in one day, which is equal to the amount that Houston received over three days during Hurricane Harvey. As for the winds, they had to be measured by satellite after they destroyed the National Weather Service’s sensors with tornado force. All of this has put stress on the Guajatca Dam, and the Army is now racing against time to shore it up before it fails and creates another catastrophic flood. 70,000 citizens have been evacuated from the area in case the dam fails before it is repaired.

Maria rendered 89 percent of Puerto Rico’s cell towers nonoperational, making communication difficult. People have been relying on CB radio and word of mouth, which is why the death toll is still climbing. It’s impossible to know yet just how many people were lost to mudslides, floods, and collapses. And because there is only ONE hospital on the island that is full operational, sickness is still claiming others.

#puertorico de pie #puertoricoselevanta🇵🇷 #togetherasone #huracanmaria

A post shared by Maria Fernanda Lopez (@mafelopeztv) on

What Do We Do Now To Help?

We can’t all be Bethenny Frankel. But working together, we can help Puerto Rico immensely in the short-term and long-term. Even as aid arrives in the region, it is difficult to distribute outside of the capital, San Juan. We can’t expect fast results, nor can we forget that this crisis is ongoing.

Donate to a Big NGO

In the meantime, you can donate to various organizations. After the abysmal track record that the Red Cross had in Haiti, it’s fair to be skeptical about supporting the big, general charities. Among the big names, Oxfam seems to be spearheading the surge to restore the island (and blasting Trump for his inaction). Learn more about their efforts in Puerto Rico online.

Donate to a Targeted Local Charity

If you’d rather put your trust in specific initiatives, Go Fund Me has created a Hurricane Maria Hub where organizations based in the Caribbean are raising funds for specific efforts. It’s particularly good for those who want to support the recovery of other islands in the region, who may be eclipsed by the coverage of Puerto Rico.

Donate to Puerto Rico’s Official Fund Drive

The First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, worked with business leaders to establish the general fund, United for Puerto Rico. It has some big sponsors already, and one may need to overlook the fact that it isn’t clear how the funds will be used, because (as  is clear from the numbers above) it’s hard to say what will be most needed from a general fund in the months (and years) ahead.

United For Puerto Rico has also published a guide for individuals and businesses who wish to donate supplies, especially construction and medical supplies. You can read about the needs and guidelines in this PDF.

Volunteer in Puerto Rico

If you sign up to volunteer, you probably won’t be heading to Puerto Rico immediately, but you will be needed eventually. After the first responders have stabilized the situation, clean up and construction will still take many hands and many months (maybe years). If you have the time and energy to volunteer in Puerto Rico in the future (near or far), the best place to sign up is Puerto Rico’s VOAD site (Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster).

Contact Your Senator

Despite having a larger population of U.S. Citizens than Idaho, North Dakota and Wyoming COMBINED, Puerto Rico has no representation in Washington D.C. And because Puerto Rico is also a notably non-white population, it has been readily ignored by most GOP politicos and pundits. Trump’s callous, crass, oblivious disregard for the territory is beyond the pale, of course. Under these circumstances, federal support for Puerto Rico’s recovery is likely to be used as a bargaining chip (and chipped away).

Talk to your representatives and make sure that they know that you endorse the government doing what it is supposed to do: protecting and serving American citizens, on both the mainland and islands.

Spread The Word Among Your Peers

As the news cycle blazes through other events and tries to keep up with the noxious tire fire that is Trump’s presidency, Puerto Rico may be forgotten quickly. After all, it is not recognized as a state, even though, if it were, it would rank #29 in size by population. It has been appalling to see this environmental and humanitarian catastrophe treated as an afterthought and a budgetary inconvenience, when Puerto Rico actually pays its taxes.

As this becomes another failure by the Republican administration, one can expect the story to be buried, whether the recovery happens or not. Don’t let it fade into obscurity. Stay engaged with this ongoing crisis and find ways to help as you can. This is a beautiful part of our country, and if we let the Trump administration off the hook, we are giving tacit approval to abandoning Americans at their time of need. That is, itself, completely un-American. It sure ain’t how a Diva behaves.

So show those islands some love, Divaland!