After taking a direct hit from Hurricane Maria last week, the entirety of Puerto Rico is without electricity. Sixty percent of the island has no running water. Fuel is running low. Communications are difficult, as phone service is rare. The devastation is indescribable, the images unbelievable. Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló warned yesterday that “Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, can turn into a humanitarian crisis.”
The President spent all weekend tweeting about NFL players he’s mad at.
While Donald Trump did, finally, mention Puerto Rico last night, if only to functionally blame the island for its own ills, there are plaintive cries from residents and growing fury here on the mainland that the President is ignoring one of the worst natural disasters in American history in favor of carrying on his petty beefs with athletes. One of those athletes wants everyone to get their priorities in order.
Carmelo Anthony, newest member of the Oklahoma City Thunder, son of a Puerto Rican father, used his introductory press conference to issue a plea for help, and for attention.
“I call on everybody…to not overlook Puerto Rico, because there are so many things going on in the world today, in our country today. And at the end of the day, Puerto Rico is a part of the United States, so we can not overlook that island. I challenge the powers that be, the President of the United States, to not overlook Puerto Rico. Don’t overlook our Puerto Ricans. We need all the help that we can get.”
Anthony, who first put out a call for help last Friday, has started a crowdfunded Puerto Rico relief fund, seeded with his $50,000 donation. Donors have since committed more than $200,000. It’s a pittance compared to what’s needed, but it’s a start, and it’s growing.
Puerto Rico’s recovery faces challenges both logistical (many ports and airports are damaged) and legislative (as a U.S. commonwealth, the island does not have a voting member of congress). But the effort has begun. FEMA, which is coordinating the recovery, says 10,000 federal employees have been or will be deployed to the island. The Coast Guard and the National Guard are delivering supplies and conducting rescue and evacuation operations. But the island’s infrastructure and its agriculture are decimated, and with Puerto Rico still suffering from a major economic crisis, the time frame for recovery is probably measured in years instead of weeks or months.
“Please, you have to tell people that we are here, that we exist,” one resident told a Washington Post reporter as she carried a bag full of batteries, toilet paper, and other supplies to the isolated mountain town of her mother, whom she hadn’t had contact with since Wednesday. “We are like the forgotten community.”
“Puerto Ricans are my people,” Carmelo Anthony wrote on the Players’ Tribune on Friday.
“But this is about more than that. Puerto Ricans are our fellow Americans. Puerto Ricans are our fellow man. They need our help.
“I’ve been texting my people down there ... and I get nothing back. It’s the worst feeling in the world. Imagine texting somebody you love and getting no response for more than a day. It’s been days of nothing, and I’m sitting here on pins and needles. I’m just hoping and praying that one person hits me back and gives me some kind of update on what’s going on — let’s me know that everything’s OK.
“But I know it’s not OK.”