Aid flows to Puerto Rico but many still lack water and food

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Thousands of Puerto Ricans were finally getting water and food rations Friday as an aid bottleneck began to ease, but many remained cut off from the basic necessities of life and were desperate for power, communications and other trappings of normality in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

There were many people across the island, especially outside the capital, unable to get water, gas or generator fuel. That was despite the fact that military trucks laden with water bottles and other supplies began to reach even some remote parts of Puerto Rico and U.S. federal officials pointed to progress in the recovery effort, insisting that more gains would come soon.

In some cases, aid that was being distributed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency was simply not enough to meet demand on an island of 3.4 million people where nearly everyone was still without power, half were without running water in their homes and the economy was still crippled from the effects of the storm that swept across the U.S. territory as a fierce Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20.

“I haven’t seen any help and we’re running out of water,” said Pedro Gonzalez, who was clearing debris to earn some money in the northern coastal town of Rio Grande. Increasingly desperate and with a daughter with Down syndrome to support, he had already decided to move to Louisiana to stay with relatives. “We’re getting out of here.”

FEMA sent Rio Grande officials shipments of food and water for the past three days and arrived Thursday to help distribute meal packets, water and snacks in one community. But people in nearby neighborhoods complained that they weren’t told about the aid.

“This has been a complete disaster,” said 64-year-old retiree Jenny Cordero as she filled plastic trash cans with water at the home of a neighbor who was among the lucky ones to have service restored.

Those who made it, however, were grateful. “This will help somewhat, so we don’t starve,” said Anthony Jerena, a 33-year-old father of two teenagers who managed to get two boxes of water, each containing 24 bottles and, three packages of meals-ready-to-eat.

Yolanda Lebron, a spokeswoman for the Rio Grande mayor, said they used a car with a loudspeaker to announce that FEMA would be registering people for aid, but did not mention there would be food and water given out. “We didn’t dare,” she said. “We didn’t know if we were going to have enough.”

Gov. Ricard Rossello and other officials said they were aware of people’s deepening frustration and of the difficulty, and danger, of living on a sweltering tropical island with no air conditioning and little to no water. He blamed some of the delay on the logistical challenge of getting aid shipments out of the seaports and airports, which were knocked out of commission in the storm, and then distributing the supplies on debris-strewn streets.