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Editorial: Puerto Rico's agony demands more assistance

The scale of the catastrophe that has engulfed Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria is almost beyond comprehension.

People are dying for lack of medical care. Those who survived this Category 4 hurricane are hanging on by a thread. There is limited or no access to clean water and food. The electrical grid remains down. Cellphone service is nonexistent in many places.

With the scope of the tragedy is becoming more apparent every day, the government must deploy every resource possible to get help our countrymen.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. commonwealth, meaning its 3.4 million inhabitants are citizens. Plain and simple, the federal government must do more to help.

Right now, about 7,200 troops are on the island along with about 2,800 federal relief workers, according to the White House. That is nowhere near what is needed.

The situation is dire. The water is not safe to drink. There is very little food to eat. There are few generators and a shortage of fuel for them. Hospitals are turning away soon-to-deliver mothers and the sick and elderly. The devastation is compounded by increasing misery of the survivors.

At best, delivering aid is challenging. It is an island, so unlike Texas after Harvey and Florida after Irma, supplies can’t just be trucked to hard-hit areas. Aid that arrives by ship and air may sit there because roads are washed out and there is a shortage of drivers and fuel for trucks.

Even before Maria, Puerto Rico was in trouble. It was essentially bankrupt with crumbling infrastructure. It is unable to cope with recovery efforts alone.

The aid effort is gaining steam, but the storm struck 10 days ago. It took more than a week before a three-star general was appointed to run the relief effort. His priority has to be delivering aid to remote areas. That may mean deploying many more helicopters, along with trucks and drivers.

The Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort just left its base in Norfolk for Puerto Rico with medical personnel and support staff for its emergency room and operating theaters.

Private industry can help out. The Royal Caribbean cruise line canceled a trip by its Adventure of the Seas to evacuate thousands of people from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and take them to Florida.

New Yorkers, with their deep ties to the island, are stepping in. In Buffalo, home to thousands of people of Puerto Rican descent, donation boxes have been set up at City Hall, 35 Erie County buildings, the Belle Center at 104 Maryland St. and St. Anthony’s Church at 306 Ingham Ave., Lackawanna. Needed supplies include bottled water, flashlights, D batteries, canned goods, old-style can openers, candles and baby supplies.

New York City has about 700,000 residents of Puerto Rican descent. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo enlisted singer-actress Jennifer Lopez in the state’s relief effort and sent state troopers and other personnel to Puerto Rico, along with planeloads of supplies.

Donations may also be made online to a number of organizations, including the American Red Cross (redcross.org), Catholic Charities (catholiccharitiesusa.org), Hispanic Federation (hispanicfederation.org/unidos), Salvation Army (salvationarmy.org) and the United Way (unitedway.org).

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