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Puerto Rico struggles to find normalcy a week after Hurricane Maria


Hector Retamal | AFP

Wilson Hernandez and his family rebuild their house destroyed by Hurricane Maria in the neigborhood of Acerolas in Toa Alto, Puerto Rico, on September 26, 2017. The US island territory, working without electricity, is struggling to dig out and clean up from its disastrous brush with the hurricane, blamed for at least 33 deaths across the Caribbean. / AFP PHOTO / HECTOR RETAMAL

John Burger - published on 09/28/17 - updated on 09/28/17

With no electricity and many hospitals shut, the sick and elderly are at risk.

Puerto Rico is a prime example of how life can completely fall apart when something we take for granted is suddenly taken away.

Without electricity for more than a day, and no prospect of it being restored, life is difficult for most people. For the sick and elderly, it’s almost unbearable.

That’s the case in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria completely wiped out the island’s electrical grid last week.

An 86-year-old woman who slipped and broke her hip, for example, is confined to a bed in a sweltering hospital and has to wait until the hospital gets the needed medical supplies.

“The pain is a horrible thing,” María Martínez Espada told the New York Times.

Veronica Rodriguez, medical director Hospital del Maestro in San Juan, added: “At 3 p.m. it gets so hot that it’s almost impossible to handle.”

Without sufficient power, X-ray machines, CT scans, and machines for cardiac catheterization do not function, and generators are not powerful enough to make them work, the Times explained. Only one in five operating rooms is functioning. Diesel is hard to find. And with a shortage of fresh water, another concern looms: a possible public health crisis because of unsanitary conditions.

The situation is similar throughout the U.S. commonwealth, if hospitals are open at all. Many of them have been crippled by floods, damage and shortages of diesel.

Ordinary people are improvising ways to get medicine, diesel for their generators, food and water.

In addition, the 911 emergency phone system still does not work, officials said.

Coast Guard planes are flying in fuel, food and water from Miami and Jacksonville. The Navy hospital ship, U.S.N.S. Comfort, with 1,000 beds and 12 operating rooms, is also headed to the island. And the Department of Defense announced that U.S. Northern Command will have a commander on the ground in 24 hours.

The military is also continuing to help the US Virgin Islands after Maria decimated critical infrastructure in the region. The USS Kearsarge Amphibious Ready Group has already been conducting rescue operations in the region, including eight medical evacuations and 148 airlifts, and has delivered 44,177 pounds of relief supplies and cargo to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands since Maria struck, according to CNN. The Defense Department is also supporting the Federal Emergency Management Agency in debris and route clearance of critical transportation routes in Puerto Rico; re-opening air and sea ports, and re-establishing utilities.

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