It seems to me that in all the ruckus about how the federal government has (or has not) been responding to the damage done to Puerto Rico by Hurricane Maria, particularly when compared to the reactions to the hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida, there’s an important point that is apparently overlooked. Puerto Rico isn’t Texas or Florida – and therein lies an immense difference.
The main problem in responding to any natural disaster is almost always logistics – which in simple terms means getting what is needed to where it is needed and when it is needed. This can take many forms, which in the case of an impending hurricane may include evacuation of those in the path of the storm to places of relative safety – measures taken in both Texas and Florida. Puerto Rico, however, is an island with a population of some 3.4 million people and the path of Maria encompassed the entire island and so folks had to “shelter in place” – meaningful evacuation wasn’t an option.
So what are the needs following the storm? Electrical power – which includes electricity generation, transmission, and distribution- ranks very high on the list. In both Texas and Florida electrical power companies from around the country readied and dispatched crews to assist in restoring the power transmission and distribution systems, that is, the power lines, in both states. These crews, with their own equipment, supplies, and transportation, staged from outside the disaster areas, used highways to get where they were needed, and restored power rather quickly.
This is not the case in Puerto Rico. Some 95% of Puerto Rico lost power as power transmission and distribution lines were destroyed – but, because Puerto Rico is an island, additional power restoration crews had to be flown in – and the air traffic control system was inoperative for some time until repairs could be made and auxiliary power became available. The US Army Corps of Engineers has been called in to assist; mobile power generators are being imported to be used as emergency sources of power; and fuel, which also must be imported, is being supplied to power generation facilities. Hundreds of power line poles that were snapped off and miles of replacement power lines must also be imported by air or sea. A whole different situation, right?
A hurricane-generated power shortage/outage also affects other areas such as the water supply which relies on electrical power for processing and pumping. In Texas and Florida truckloads of drinking water were delivered into the disaster areas by commercial, government, and non-government agencies. The same was true for food and other supplies. In addition, thousands of government task force type rescue workers as well as various aid agencies assisted and continue to assist in the recovery. All provide their own transportation, lodging, and food in addition to their assistance. Similar support for Puerto Rico is not in the cards.
Everything must be imported over 1000 miles by air or sea. Yep, a whole different ball game.
Once again back to basic logistics When needed support reaches the ports or airfields, it must be somehow transported to where it is required. The storm disabled or destroyed much of Puerto Rico’s surface transportation capabilities including: roads and bridges that were washed out; many vehicles that were rendered inoperable; and debris that blocked streets and roads. Major difficulties.
Well, there’s much more to this story, but I think the point is clear. Puerto Rico has been dealt a devastating battering by tornado-level winds and torrential rain that lasted for hours on end – and, unlike the continental United States where surface transportation is readily available, relief and recovery efforts face immense logistical challenges.
Oh, and we mustn’t forget the U S Virgin Islands – St. Thomas, St. Croix, and St. John – that were hit by two hurricanes, Irma and Maria, that slammed into the islands in a two-week period. These U S citizens are mostly without power, drinking water, and cell phone service, with people still searching for generators and for blue tarps to cover up their gaping homes. More logistics headaches.
You know, this is not the time for political wrangling, finger pointing, and one- upmanship. It’s time for this country to take care of our own whether in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico, or the U S Virgin Islands – to unite in support of the victims of these natural disasters. That’s what makes this country great. At least that’s how it seems to me.
Bill Taylor, a Greene County Daily columnist and area resident, may be contacted at [email protected]