Officials In Puerto Rico Try To Avoid A Humanitarian Disaster
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
In Puerto Rico, millions of people, millions of Americans are now approaching a week without power or clean water. Many others are without access to drugs or doctors. NPR's Camila Domonoske spoke to people waiting in line for gas in Rio Grande. That's about 15 miles east of San Juan. One of those people was Sara Algerin (ph), and she'd been there for hours.
SARA ALGERIN: We've been here since 5, and that line of cars just got bigger.
KELLY: Way bigger. It was about a hundred cars long. And with no phone service, people waiting didn't know when a gas tanker might show up. Sara was there with her sister, Cindy (ph).
CINDY: I've been here for six hours. You know, I'll wait six hours more 'cause we're so close to getting gas. It's not really worth it going back, you know? You just stay maybe till tomorrow, I don't know. Just bring, like, a little blanket and a pillow and just camp-out. I don't know.
KELLY: Well, so people in line just deciding there to settle in. There was one game of dominoes that had gotten going before sunrise and was still going well into the afternoon. But Alfred Rodrigo Maldorado (ph) was frustrated with what he saw as the lack of help from authorities.
ALFRED RODRIGO MALDORADO: (Speaking Spanish).
KELLY: Maldorado said the storm was strong, historic, but he said, quote, "what is actually historic is the absence of our government."
Well, let's bring in the voice of the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello. Governor Rossello is on the line now from San Juan. Good morning.
RICARDO ROSSELLO: Good morning, Mary Louise. Thank you for the opportunity.
KELLY: We're glad to have you on. Now, you have said that you're going to need the full support of the U.S. government from Puerto Rico. Are you not getting that now?
ROSSELLO: That's right. We're - we are collaborating with FEMA. The collaboration has been very productive. We've settled on a joint center of collaboration here in the convention center. We are addressing a whole host of all of these issues, of course priorities being hospitals, making sure we get gas to different areas and - and fuel to different areas of Puerto Rico. Security is important, and of course, food delivery. But, as you're aware, this has been a very devastating event.
Before the event, about a week before, we started designing or executing an emergency protocol that established that we were going to be without telecoms, as - as we are. Essentially a hundred percent of the power grid, if a cat-5 hurricane was going to hit Puerto Rico, was going to be destroyed. So we had to focus on one thing and one thing only, and that was to make sure people were out of harm's way, they were safe. It's going to be uncomfortable for the next couple of days, but now we're starting to establish that logistic that will make - that will make their way to all of the different areas of Puerto Rico.
KELLY: And you mentioned - you mentioned FEMA, and I know you had the head of FEMA, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Brock Long, down in San Juan with you yesterday, also White House Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert. What, specifically, are you asking them for? What do you need right now?
ROSSELLO: Well, we need - we need resources. We need resources and security. We need quicker logistical deployment. You know, the gas and fuel issue is not a matter of how much do we have, it's a matter of how we can distribute it. Now, a lot of the - you have to consider that this is a - a sort of a logistical pathway. So we need bus drivers. We need gas-station operators. And some of them have devastation and are still locked out, as well. So our focus has been to identify these bus drivers, to identify the gas-station operators, to get them open and to start the transmission of all this fuel. So today in the morning, we sent about a hundred trucks with fuel everywhere in the island. That should start mitigating this a little bit - as well as hospitals, which made it significant.
KELLY: I - I want to ask you about something that President Trump tweeted last night. He said, and I'll quote, "food, water and medical are top priorities and are doing well," talking there about Puerto Rico. Now, that seems to be contradicted by reporting our team on the ground is doing. So I want to ask you, does the president have the full picture of the situation there?
ROSSELLO: Well, it is - there is food coming. The ports have opened. There are medicines coming. There are, you know, articles of first-need that are here already. The (unintelligible) step is the deployment of those assets. So we've asked FEMA that we can get some more personnel over here. We've asked other National Guard - National Guards to come over here to Puerto Rico. Unfortunately, the air-traffic control has been slow as well. So getting those resources has been sort of slower than what we expected, but - but the resources are getting here.
KELLY: The resources are getting there. Now, let me ask you about something else, though, which is the - the point that you have made. People can't forget Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.
ROSSELLO: That's right. That's right. This is critical. And let me just speak about that. About ten days ago, Puerto Rico, having gone through a (inaudible) was the platform to save other U.S. citizens. We gave them shelter even though we have destruction of our own. We gave them food, and we sent them out of harm's way. And now it's time - you know, Puerto Ricans have fought in wars and defended the United States, and taking a look at this - this catastrophe, this is one of the major catastrophes. It's unprecedented. You're talking about two category-5 hurricanes hitting one location in the span of two weeks. And my petition is, No. 1, don't forget that we're U.S. citizens. Number two, the magnitude of this is enormous. There's enormous devastation.
KELLY: That's Governor Ricardo Rossello. Thanks so much.
ROSSELLO: Thank you.
KELLY: Governor of Puerto Rico there.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.