An editorial from the New York Times.
Two months after Puerto Rico was devastated by Hurricane Maria, a sense of desperation seems to be yielding to resignation at best. More than half of the island is still without power, and hundreds of thousands of residents are fleeing to the American mainland in an extraordinary exodus.
It has been weeks since President Trump visited to jovially toss rolls of paper towels to needy fellow Americans and brag about how successful the recovery effort was. But true evidence of progress has been hard to come by. Even the simplest symbols of government, like traffic lights, remain useless. Most of the Pentagon’s emergency troops have begun pulling out, except for those working on the island’s shattered power grid.
The storm’s official death count of about 55 may eventually be hundreds higher, according to forensic researchers measuring the cumulative effect on the island’s 3.4 million residents. Tens of thousands of jobs have been washed away. Thousands of small businesses remain closed, and even some hospitals remain on emergency generators. Federal Emergency Management Agency officials say that unusually tough conditions are forcing them to continue to focus on the emergency response phase across the battered island — potable water, roof tarps and other bare necessities.
“We need a tent over the whole island,” a desperate municipal worker told a Slate reporter. “It’s already a circus.” Islanders’ morale has hardly been lifted by a scandal centered on the dysfunctional and debt-ridden power authority. Its chief executive quit this month as details emerged of a $300 million contract with a small Montana company. It eventually was canceled as irate islanders learned the authority had agreed to pay $319 an hour to visiting linemen while other contractors were paid as little as $42.
An estimated 2,000 islanders have been leaving each day, many intent on using their American citizenship to resettle among relatives in Florida. “It’s a stampede,” a migration expert told The Times’s Lizette Alvarez of the more than 168,000 who have landed in Florida, with another 100,000 due by Dec. 31. Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency to handle a wave of newcomers that rivals the influx from Cuba during the Mariel boatlift.
The underlying question is what leadership role the federal government will play. Gov. Ricardo Rosselló asked Congress this month for $94.4 billion in aid to help the island recover from Hurricane Maria. Congress has approved almost $5 billion so far, but a far firmer initiative and plan for the island’s recovery is needed from President Trump and administration officials.
Mr. Trump is unfortunately remembered on the island for his scornful critique of local leaders “not able to get their workers to help.” He tweeted, “They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort.” Rather than offering defeatist salvos, the president has a sworn responsibility to offer the support that Puerto Ricans deserve as American citizens trapped in a dire emergency.