Puerto Rico’s Most Vulnerable Are Still Waiting For Help 7 Weeks After Maria

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CANÓVANAS, Puerto Rico ― Juan Medina-Dishmey took inventory of all the things his household of six had misplaced within the storm, sweat accumulating on his involved forehead as he studied the piles of broken family home equipment and private belongings that lay on his driveway.

“The house is uninhabitable right now,” the 44-year-old advised HuffPost in mid-October. He stated that in Hurricane Maria, water rose as much as 4 ft inside his house in Valle Hill, an impoverished neighborhood within the metropolis of Canóvanas in northeastern Puerto Rico.

“We lost everything and still no one has helped us,” he stated.

Four weeks after HuffPost met with Medina-Dishmey ― and 7 weeks after Maria hammered Puerto Rico on Sept. 20 ― his household stays in a determined state of affairs. On Thursday, the Dominican-born father of 4 advised HuffPost by telephone that the Federal Emergency Management Agency had come to evaluate the damages to his house 12 days in the past, however he has but to listen to again.


Medina-Dishmey and his spouse, Juana Ferrera, have a 19-year-old son and three daughters ages 17, 15 and 11. Their youngest has a cognitive incapacity on account of microcephaly, which causes her to have epileptic seizures and problem with speech. The household is presently residing with Medina-Dishmey’s sister, and has simply two small mattresses from their house to sleep on.

“Without electricity, without mosquito nets, that’s how we’re sleeping on the floor,” Ferrera, 47, stated.

The household’s residing preparations, coupled with the dearth of unpolluted consuming water and energy throughout a lot of the island, have Medina-Dishmey and Ferrera anxious about their children’ well being. All three of their daughters have had colds; the youngest has been sick for a minimum of 4 weeks, Ferrera stated Thursday. The dad and mom additionally concern their kids might grow to be contaminated with leptospirosis, a probably lethal animal-borne bacterial illness.


The lack of adequate meals, water and secure residing circumstances for his household has Medina-Dishmey feeling disheartened. He stated his kids additionally “feel sad” once they see the injury to their house and say they need to transfer to the U.S. mainland. 

“I haven’t even been able to work and I’m waiting for an organization to give me some sort of help,” he stated. “I try to act strong so my kids don’t see me like that, but I’m still depressed.”

The household is considered one of hundreds in Valle Hill and its two neighboring communities, Villa Hugo 1 and a couple of, that residents say lack primary sources, together with shelter, in Maria’s aftermath. While a number of poor communities are nonetheless ready for badist, the plight of the Valle Hill space stands out, Angel Marcano, a neighborhood chief from Old San Juan’s La Perla district, advised HuffPost.


“We’re hearing from a lot of communities like this … the government came once or the government hasn’t come at all,” Marcano stated. “Compared to other communities I’ve been to, I saw a lot of need [in the Valle Hill area].”

“I saw families that are ‘living under four sticks,’ as we say here in Puerto Rico,” he added.

Jannette Lozada Sabastros, 52, Valle Hill’s neighborhood president, stated she has not heard from the mayor of Canóvanas, Lornna Soto, since Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico forward of Maria in early September. At that point, 79 “small” luggage of groceries had been delivered, she stated.

Lozada Sabastros suspects that badist has been gradual to reach due partially to discrimination towards her neighborhood, the place 40 % of the world’s residents are undocumented immigrants primarily from the Dominican Republic ― an typically vilified group.

Alaí Reyes-Santos, an affiliate professor of ethnic research on the University of Oregon, has finished intensive badysis on the marginalization of Dominicans in Puerto Rico, each documented and undocumented. She advised HuffPost there’s “real discrimination and xenophobic violence against” working-clbad Dominican migrants on the island, who are sometimes seen as uneducated or criminals.

“[They] are very vulnerable because there’s an badumption that they don’t have rights or that they’re not protected by the state,” she stated.

Residents additionally level to an absence of transparency from native officers, which has led to little understanding of how sources are allotted on the federal degree. The consequence: Residents are determined for primary requirements ― together with shelter ― with no identified timetable for when badistance will arrive, if in any respect.

Multiple calls to the workplace of the mayor of Canóvanas by HuffPost went unanswered.


FEMA’S badist distribution pipeline

For its half, FEMA says they’re delivering meals and water supposed for Canóvanas to a regional distribution heart.

“FEMA’s records show food and water have been delivered to Canóvanas and its badociated regional staging area, as requested, on a daily basis for the past month,” spokesman Ron Roth advised HuffPost.

Once provides arrive in Puerto Rico, Roth stated, the company transfers them to the 9 Regional Staging Areas (RSAs) throughout the island. The Puerto Rican National Guard manages and operates the RSAs and is in control of delivering the provides to native mayors or approved officers. From there, native officers distribute the meals, water and different badist at their discretion.

One of the RSAs is positioned in Canóvanas and provides badist to it and the municipalities of San Juan, Carolina, Trujillo Alto, Loiza and Rio Grande. As of Tuesday, the Canóvanas RSA had acquired 1,422,812 bottles of water and 430,560 nonperishable meals, based on FEMA. As of Sunday, the RSA had additionally acquired 131 pallets of perishable meals with a median of 330 meals per pallet.

If these sources had been distributed evenly among the many estimated 697,820 residents in all six municipalities, every individual would have acquired roughly 2.04 bottles of water and zero.68 meals by way of FEMA since Maria hit.

Other teams, such because the Red Cross and the Salvation Army, have pitched in, however meals and water stay in brief provide.

When HuffPost requested FEMA concerning the inadequate portions of badist out there on the Canóvanas RSA, Roth stated the company is working with the federal government of Puerto Rico to evaluate communities wants.

“The request of commodities and distribution is led by local officials as they identify the need according to their impacted population,” he stated in an announcement. “Then the request comes to FEMA to provide and distribute commodities, this is the process for all 78 municipalities.”

He added that the Department of Defense has been offering two reverse osmosis water purification models that produce three,000 gallons of potable water per hour.


About every week after Maria, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Treasury and the National Guard introduced 900 instances of water to be distributed among the many 1,600 households in Valle Hill and Villa Hugo 1 and a couple of, based on Lozada Sabastros. But she stated Thursday nobody has been again since.

“It’s been almost a month since any water was brought here,” she stated. “There are a lot of families here that have four-to-eight members, one case of water rationed out can last [only] one week or a week-and-a-half.”

What’s extra, Lozada Sabastros advised HuffPost the 972 households within the communities stay in dire want of garments, sheets, mattresses, meals, drugs and even shelter.

Thus far, residents have survived on provides from personal entities like Samaritan’s Purse, an evangelical humanitarian badist group that gave all three communities blue tarps to make use of as makeshift roofs or partitions.


‘We didn’t count on a lot injury’

The watch for badist is especially tough for these and not using a roof over their head. Nearly each household house constructed with wooden in Valle Hill and its neighboring communities was both flattened or ripped away by Maria’s winds, leaving dozens of residents with little greater than cinder blocks to face on.

“Every corner of my community was affected,” Lozada Sabastros advised HuffPost. “We knew it was going to affect us, but we didn’t expect so much damage.”

Danny Guerrero Herrera is likely one of the many residents who misplaced most of their properties to the storm. He advised HuffPost that Irma shook his home, which sits atop a small hill, however Maria ripped away his roof, a number of partitions and destroyed practically all his belongings.

When HuffPost visited him at his house in mid-October, the 43-year-old was utilizing a donated tarp as a makeshift wall the place his rest room and bed room was. When he pulled the tarp again, dozens of different broken homes in Villa Hugo 1 got here into view beneath.

The flimsy, non permanent tarps had been the one safety many residents had from the flash floods and rain that got here after Maria till the Army Corps of Engineers arrived to put in strengthened coverings on Oct. 28 as a part of the Operation Blue Roof, a program applied on behalf of FEMA.

But Roth, who is aware of of this system, advised HuffPost that even these strengthened tarps are an incomplete answer for a lot of households as a result of they will solely be utilized if a minimum of 50 % of a home’s rafters are nonetheless standing.



In different phrases, this system doesn’t handle the housing disaster confronted by many within the Valle Hill space. “They’re not going to put many up here, because the majority of houses here were completely destroyed,” Lozada Sabastros stated.

Guerrero Herrera and his spouse have been staying at a buddy’s home since their house was battered. In the interview final month, he stated he was nonetheless ready for FEMA to evaluate the injury and grant him monetary help so he might tear down his house and rebuild it. “But they haven’t come,” he stated with a sigh. “Let’s see what happens.”

Contacted by telephone on Thursday, Guerrero Herrera stated he nonetheless had heard nothing from the company. 

’I’ve sensed discrimination

While some residents within the Valle Hill space maintain out hope that FEMA will arrive with monetary badist to rebuild their lives, Lozada Sabastros stated she is aware of of a minimum of 400 residents in her neighborhood who received’t see a cent as a result of they’re undocumented immigrants, primarily from the Dominican Republic.

“I am realizing that because this is a community of foreigners ― meaning there are a lot of people without documents ― I’ve sensed discrimination,” she advised HuffPost.

Lozada Sabastros stated she is making an attempt to get these households badist by personal organizations “so they at least have a place to sleep.”

FEMA, responding to a query about badist that undocumented people are entitled to, pointed HuffPost to its webpage, which confirmed that undocumented residents affected by a significant catastrophe could also be eligible for non-monetary help ― together with authorized badist, medical care, shelter, meals and water. Undocumented people are usually not eligible for money help packages, although a FEMA spokesman advised HuffPost households can apply for such reduction so long as any member of the family has correct documentation, no matter age.


The marginalization of Dominicans in Puerto Rico can be nothing new, based on Reyes-Santos, who wrote Our Caribbean Kin: Race and Nation within the Neoliberal Antilles. A Puerto Rican who has relations of Dominican descent, she stated that undocumented Dominicans are extra susceptible and invisible than ever post-Maria. 

“I don’t know much about Canóvanas but I know enough about how nationalist politics play out in particular moments of fear,” she stated. “In moments of fear, migrants become scapegoats.”

She stated Dominicans have been used as such in Puerto Rico because the 1980s, when the island’s financial disaster started to take form.

“I could see people not helping Dominicans and using nationalism as a way to say, ‘Well, we just need to help ourselves right now and Dominicans are not part of our community, they just need to go home,’” she stated. “In desperate times, sadly, all our biases and prejudices kick in.”


‘What I’m most anxious about proper now could be well being’

Nearly 58 % of Puerto Rico nonetheless is with out energy and greater than 14 % is with out working water, in accordance to authorities statistics. Doctors have advised HuffPost these circumstances make the island ripe for illness outbreaks.

The failure to carry adequate consuming water and supply clear residing circumstances has left residents in Valle Hill and its neighboring communities uncovered to probably contaminated water sources or objects that would contribute to a number of well being issues.

“What I’m most worried about right now is health, because they haven’t picked up the trash and at night there’s a procession of rats,” Lozada Sabastros stated. Rats, amongst different animals, pose a risk to the neighborhood’s well being since they’re identified to hold the micro organism that may infect people with leptospirosis. The illness has killed a minimum of 4 individuals in Maria’s aftermath.

Lozada Sabastros says that in Valle Hill alone, 4 others have died from the illness. “When it comes to statistics, [the government] stayed quiet, but I know who died here from that,” she stated. “I know because I went to every one of the funerals.”

The official dying toll from all causes badociated to Maria stands at 55. 

Lozada Sabastros stated Thursday she is aware of of about 200 individuals in Valle Hill affected by completely different illnesses, together with scabies, gastritis and conjunctivitis. She is especially involved concerning the well-being of her neighborhood’s kids.

“The kids have some horrible colds,” she stated. “I’m scared for my kids and for the kids here because without toys or anything to entertain themselves with, they spend their time going through the trash.”


Hermes Ayala and Alejandra Rosa contributed to this report.



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