News this month has been dominated by the massive storms that have roared out of the Atlantic to threaten the United States. First came Hurricane Harvey, which brought devastation to Texas. Then Hurricane Irmarampaged through the Caribbean before slamming into Florida. So it is understandable that Americans might feel a certain weariness about storms. But it is important that the destruction and pain being experienced by our compatriots in Puerto Rico not be ignored or overlooked.
A third major hurricane, this one called Maria, made a direct hit on Puerto Rico on Wednesday, knocking out power across the entire island, causing flooding and landslides, and leveling homes. The full scope of the destruction, including deaths and injuries, won’t be known until rescue crews have a chance to make a better assessment. But the electric grid on the U.S. territory was already in bad shape because of a lack of maintenance and loss of staff after the state-owned power authority declared bankruptcy, and there is no telling when power will be restored.
Adding to the woes is the island’s economic crisis and crippling debt, making recovery from Maria even more difficult. “There has been nothing like this,” said Ramón Lopez as, near tears, he described to the New York Times the destruction of his neighborhood in Guaynabo, on the northern coast near San Juan. “This looks like a different country,” said Marimar de la Cruz as she viewed the damage in San Juan, capital of the commonwealth.
President Donald Trump on Wednesday approved a disaster declaration for Puerto Rico, a welcome and needed step as it will make federal assistance available to Puerto Ricans affected by the storm. Equally welcome was his announcement that he plans to visit Puerto Rico. Just as it was important for Trump to go to Texas and then Florida to show the country’s commitment to its citizens, so it is important that he go to Puerto Rico.
In doing so he sets an example for the rest of the country. Disaster often brings out the best in people, and it was heartening to see volunteers rush in boats to rescue people from flooded streets in Houston, animal lovers set up a system to evacuate pets from Clearwater, Florida, and Americans everywhere open their wallets to help people who lost their homes. The Americans who live in Puerto Rico must not be forgotten.