By Devin Henry
Puerto Rico’s electricity systems are badly damaged after Hurricane Maria, and nearly half the U.S. territory’s residents lack drinking water following the storm, the Defense Department reported Tuesday.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is “slowly restoring power to customers,” according to the most recent update, but 80 percent of the island’s electricity transmission lines and 100 percent of its distribution system are damaged. Transmission lines move electricity across long distances, while distribution lines deliver it to homes and businesses.
Only 11 of the island’s 69 hospitals have fuel or power. And 44 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents are still without clean drinking water, the Pentagon said.
In the U.S. Virgin Islands, power has been restored to a key water-production plant, which is now back in operation.
The Defense Department said it expects a total of 240 aircraft to arrive in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands over the next 24 hours. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is shipping up to 350 satellite telephones to the islands to assist officials on the ground. Puerto Rico officials have urged the federal government to speed up its relief efforts after Maria, which hit the island last week as a major hurricane.
“We need more help. We need more help with resources. We need more help with people being deployed so that we can get logistical support elsewhere,” Gov. Ricardo Rosselló (D) said Tuesday morning.
“And we need Congress to take action so we can have an aid package that is real for the American citizens that live in Puerto Rico and that is flexible so that we can take immediate action.”
President Trump will visit Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands next week, the White House said Tuesday. Trump also expanded his disaster declaration for Puerto Rico on Tuesday and defended his administration’s response to the storm. “We, right now, have our top people from FEMA, and they have been there,” he said at a press conference with Spain’s prime minister. “We are unloading, on an hourly basis, massive loads of water and food and supplies for Puerto Rico.”
“And this isn’t like Florida where we can go right up the spine or like Texas where we go right down the middle and we distribute,” Trump said. “This is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean, this is tough stuff.”a