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Machete, origami and reading: life in San Juan a week after Maria
By Leila MACOR
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico (AFP) Oct 1, 2017

Trump defends Puerto Rico effort, but his tweets draw new criticism
San Juan (AFP) Oct 2, 2017 - President Donald Trump on Sunday defended US efforts to bring relief to storm-battered Puerto Rico, even as one island official said Trump was trying to gloss over "things that are not going well."

A day after Trump launched a Twitter attack against San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz following her desperate pleas for more help, he tweeted that "we have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico."

Trump said US military teams and the Federal Emergency Management Agency were doing "amazing work" and credited the island's governor and others with a "fantastic job."

But two weeks after devastating Hurricane Maria left much of the island without electricity, fresh water or sufficient food, many Puerto Ricans seemed to have a far gloomier outlook.

Hilda Lopez, in her 80s, broke into tears when approached as she left Mass at San Juan's Cathedral.

"It pains me that the president of the United States has expressed himself the way he has in recent days. I don't know if it's because he doesn't appreciate the pain" that Puerto Ricans are suffering.

- 'Looking for an excuse' -

Trump, in one tweet Sunday, said that those who continued to criticize the relief effort were either "Fake News or politically motivated ingrates."

Mayor Cruz, in an interview with CNN, shrugged off the criticism. She told CNN that millions were still in dire circumstances, and that Trump seemed to be "looking for an excuse for things that are not going well."

Trump's criticism has drawn sharp retorts even from within his Republican Party.

"When people are in the middle of a disaster, you don't start trying to criticize them," Ohio Governor John Kasich, a presidential hopeful in 2016, said on CNN. "You got to be bigger than the nonsense."

And Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, told CNN: "Speaking from his fancy golf club, playing golf with his billionaire friends, attacking the mayor of San Juan, who is struggling to bring electricity to the island, food to the island, water to the island, gas to the island, that is just -- it is unspeakable.

"And I don't know what world Trump is living in."

Trump spent Sunday morning at his golf resort in Bedminster, New Jersey, before traveling to another golf course in nearby Jersey City to present the trophy to the winner of the Presidents Cup tournament. He dedicated the tournament trophy to all recent US hurricane victims.

"On behalf of all of the people of Texas, and... if you look today and you see what's happening, how horrible it is but we have it under really great control, Puerto Rico," he said.

"And the people of Florida who have really suffered over this last period of time with the hurricanes," Trump said before presenting the trophy to US captain Steve Stricker.

"I want to just remember them, and we're going to dedicate this trophy to all those people who went through so much, that we love, that are part of our great state, really a part of our great nation," Trump said.

Alejandro Araujo whiles away the day doing jigsaw puzzles. At night, he sleeps on a hammock on the patio, machete at his side.

Now that some streets have been cleared of branches and rubble Hurricane Maria left behind, middle class residents of Puerto Rico's capital San Juan's outskirts are afraid, and straining to keep up hope.

Ten days ago, Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the American island of 3.4 million people isolated and without electricity with damage so grave, much of it appeared to have sustained devastating damage to infrastructure and homes.

In San Juan, residents spend their days lining up in sweltering heat to buy ice, fuel, water and scarce food.

In some areas where there is cellular coverage -- sometimes it is in the middle of a road -- you see swarms of residents adjusting telephones in the air to contact loved ones.

Many have not drunk anything cold in ten days. The heat is stifling.

Those who go to work do so mostly because their businesses have generators. Others have to be patient.

In middle-class Guaynabo, outside San Juan, the Araujos -- Alejandro, Juana and their son Xavier -- are just hoping life gets back to normal.

It's not easy to stay on top of the latest developments in a disaster most believe is unprecedented here.

They hear often contradictory news by word of mouth, listen to the radio, and walk instead of driving to save gas. They feel vulnerable because looting was reported on the island just after the hurricane on the morning of September 20.

"As a precaution I sleep outside with the dog, and with a machete in my hand, because I prefer to have something in my hand than to feel helpless," says Alejandro Araujo, a 53-year-old computer expert, in his back yard.

Without electricity home security alarms do not work and neighbors are organized to blow the horn of their car if they see strangers prowling around.

"Obviously the police are very busy on a number of things. There has been less vigilance and the number of people wanting to take advantage of the situation has increased," says Alejandro.

Authorities have not said how many people were arrested after the megastorm. But businesses have told news outlets there was widespread looting, especially right after the storm.

Gas stations, with long lines snaking around and around, are being guarded by police and in many cases armed private guards.

"People are getting desperate. I'm not afraid of anyone, but there are other people who are not leaving their homes because of the fear that they will get robbed, or get seriously hurt," said Brian Lafuente, the manager of a gas station in San Juan.

Thursday, Governor Ricardo Rossello said federal officials would be sent in to work alongside local officials to "protect the property, health and safety of all our citizens." He did not say how many.

- "We are privileged" -

Regardless, capital area residents say there are not enough police.

The Araujos feel vulnerable -- and disinclined to venture from their home. She is a psychologist and university professor; he depends on the internet to do his job. Neither one has anything to do.

"This situation has made me come up with projects, such as knitting a sweater. I started to embroider, to do things that were important to me, just to try to drain the anguish of everyday life," says Juana, 59.

With no internet, electricity, telephone or television, everyday life is affected in the smallest things.

For example, the family now goes to sleep at about nine o'clock at night. They spend the afternoon chatting with neighbors.

Alejandro is putting together a puzzle, Juana puts the edge on a curtain and Xavier, 16, spends the day making origami figures. And they read.

"We have food to eat. We have a roof over our heads. Nothing really happened to us, we are privileged that way," says Juana.

But the hurricane still had an impact on everybody here, even the lucky ones.

"I felt like the most insignificant being in the universe. I felt totally insignificant. Microscopic," she added.

Mexican economy to bounce back fast from quake: analysts
Mexico City (AFP) Sept 29, 2017
The earthquake that turned huge swathes of Mexico City into a disaster zone last week took a toll on the country's economy, but analysts say it will bounce back fast when rebuilding starts. The teeming city of 20 million people ground to an eerie halt after the September 19 quake, which killed more than 340 people across five states and the capital. The earthquake caused some $2 billion ... read more

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