Outbreaks Begin in Puerto Rico While Trump Tweets ‘Amazing Job’
Today it’s painful conjunctivitis. Tomorrow it will be killer cholera unless the federal government acts right now, mayors and doctors say.
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—While President Trump tweets about “poor leadership” in Puerto Rico, mayors and a top physician tell The Daily Beast the island faces deadly outbreaks of cholera and hepatitis unless the federal government surges help.
Ninety-five percent of the island is still without electricity more than a week after Hurricane Maria struck, including most hospitals. Only about half of the island’s 3.4 million population has drinking water. These two factors, plus unsanitary flood water inundating homes and towns, have created a public-health emergency.
“We are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency,” San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz said in a news conference on Friday. “I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying.”
Already an outbreak of conjunctivitis has infected 300 people in Loiza, a municipality 30 minutes from San Juan by car, according to Mayor Julia Navarro who drove to the capital for help.
"I'm here because there are still murky waters clogged on my streets and residents have been showing symptoms of Zika, Dengue and conjunctivitis virus," Navarro told The Daily Beast as she walked up the stairs to the Puerto Rican Convention Center, where the government has set up a command center.
"If I didn't come here personally, I wouldn't get any help." she added.
With people packed closely in shelters, the risk of an outbreak spreading is even higher.
More than 500 people in Toa Baja were waiting for FEMA to inspect their homes, which were flooded with putrid waters.
"The flooding was so massive it left a lot of dead animals on people's homes and some stayed on flooded waters for days," Bernardo Marquez told The Daily Beast.
Marquez said he and his team had buried over 60 dead animals in the past week.
"There was even a horse on one of the resident's roofs," said Eduardo Ibarra, a doctor that has volunteered to attend bedridden patients around the city.
President of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Puerto Rico, Victor Ramos, said these outbreaks are just the beginning.
"We still see communities were flood water is on their driveways and common playground areas. This has to stop. The second someone comes in contact with flood water, their lives and are in danger." Ramos said adding that floodwater is a mixture of rain and sewage water.
With half of the population short of running water, personal hygiene has declined dramatically, so Ramos anticipates that the island faces outbreaks of deadly cholera, hepatitis A, meningitis, and salmonella.
"Without water supply, residents rely on stocking water to wash their mouth and do the dishes. This water is often stored incorrectly and this gets infected rapidly," Ramos said.
Ramos says the scenario outside the metropolitan areas is a lot worse because the flow of information is limited. Only 30 percent of the telecommunications have been restored across the island. Without the flow of information, addressing the public health challenge with island is facing.
Even health issues once considered ordinary now carry mortal dangers.
"I had no choice but to leave. It was a matter of getting my pills or saving my life," Marta Maldonado, a resident of Levittown said as she waited in line for a plate of hot food.
Good Samaritan Hospital in Aguadilla on the west part of the island was forced to close its doors on Friday — the same day Trump bragged about “incredible” results.
"We ran out of medicine and we ran out of diesel. Its best to have patients relocate to a more stable institution," the president of the hospital told local news.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello said that 51 hospitals under the federal government assistance program to have coordinated fuel supply and water supply routes for their operation.
More help is on the way according to Rafael Rodríguez, Puerto Rico's health secretary. "We have received more help from different parts of the United States that have offered to volunteer and serve as nurse and doctors," he said.
About 10,000 federal personnel are on the ground in Puerto Rico, and a three-star Army general has been ordered to take control of military operations. The USNS Comfort is also set to arrive on the island sometime next week. For some, it will be too late.