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In battered Puerto Rico, governor warns of a humanitarian crisis

By Frances Robles, Lizette Alvarez and Nicholas Fandos

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico – Gov. Ricardo A. Rossello of Puerto Rico said on Monday that the island was on the brink of a “humanitarian crisis” nearly a week after Hurricane Maria knocked out its power and most of its water, and left residents waiting in excruciating lines for fuel. He called on Congress to prevent a deepening disaster.

Stressing that Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, deserved the same treatment as the hurricane-hit states of Florida and Texas, the governor urged Republican leaders and the federal government to move swiftly to send more money, supplies and relief workers.

“Puerto Rico, which is part of the United States, can turn into a humanitarian crisis,” Rossello said. “To avoid that, recognize that we Puerto Ricans are American citizens; when we speak of a catastrophe, everyone must be treated equally.”

Residents now face obstacles in navigating almost every step toward a normal life, with little hope of dramatic progress anytime soon.

“I have one water truck; I need 10,” said David Latorre, Arecibo’s emergency management director. “It was an odyssey to find food. We had to break down doors to get it. The food system collapsed.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is drawing from the same $15.3 billion pot of money that was approved this month by lawmakers in response to Hurricane Harvey, which hit Texas, and Hurricane Irma, which hit Florida and damaged Puerto Rico.

The director of the agency, Brock Long, and Thomas P. Bossert, President Trump’s Homeland Security adviser, were both in Puerto Rico on Monday to assess the damage and Rossello’s priorities.

Long said there were plenty of boots on the ground. Money is not the issue at the moment, he said.

More pressing, federal officials say, are the obstacles to smoothly delivering water, food and other essentials to a devastated island.
San Juan airport’s airfield is damaged. And while six ports have opened, most are operating on a limited basis. And supplies and workers cannot just roll in on convoys from the next state over.

The nearest state to Puerto Rico is 1,000 miles away.

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