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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Puerto Rico 'heartbreaking' five weeks post-storm
By Jennie MATTHEW
New York (AFP) Oct 27, 2017


More than 73,000 Puerto Ricans flee for Florida after Hurricane Maria
Miami (AFP) Oct 26, 2017 - More than 73,000 people have fled emergency conditions at home for Florida since Hurricane Maria devastated the US territory in the Caribbean.

The island of about 3.4 million was ravaged by the megastorm and a majority are still without electricity, while others in isolated areas are continue to await services and help.

"As of October 3, 2017, more than 73,000 individuals arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico through Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport and the Everglades Port," a statement from the office of Governor Rick Scott said.

The hurricane hit the island September 20, but Puerto Rican arrivals in Florida are being recorded from October 3, a spokesman for Florida Governor Rick Scott told AFP.

That is because Florida was declared on that date to be in a state of emergency, to be able to respond to the expected migration impact.

Thanks to the emergency declaration, the state opened disaster relief centers at two airports and the port, which have since served 15,000 people.

In the relief centers, hurricane migrants from Puerto Rico can access help provided by the federal emergency management agency (FEMA), as well as state agencies for children and families, transportation, health as well as Red Cross services.

Puerto Rico is an American territory and Puerto Ricans have US citizenship.

In his statement, the governor also reported that Florida schools have registered more than 3,500 students displaced from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, also affected by the hurricane.

In addition, universities eliminated enrolment costs.

The situation on the island is still precarious. As of Wednesday, 75 percent of customers were still without electricity and clean water is still scarce in many areas.

The island's financial crisis had already driven a huge number of Puerto Ricans off the island.

Of the five million Puerto Ricans living in the continental United States, one million reside in Florida.

Conditions in Puerto Rico are still heartbreaking more than five weeks after Hurricane Maria wrought devastation, with the lack of power and clean water compounding chronic conditions, medics say.

Doctor Kevin Munjal, assistant professor of emergency medicine, and nurse Stacey Conklin were part of a team from Mount Sinai Health System who worked 12-hours a day, seven days a week in tents, living on military-style MREs in Fajardo, in Puerto Rico's hard-hit east.

When the generator in the local hospital failed, medics had to "bag" patients by hand who were on ventilators, said Conklin, after the team returned from a two-week mission treating more than 1,600 patients.

Health conditions included lacerations on people who cut themselves with machetes or chainsaws while trying to clear debris, dropped generators on their feet or sustained kerosene burns.

"People would tell us that for them to get to the main road, they were having to chop their way through to get out," Munjal told AFP.

The lack of clean water means that viral and bacterial illnesses, such as conjunctivitis, norovirus and gastrointestinal infections, spread easily through people living in close quarters in shelters, they said.

- Power crisis is key -

Not only were there medication shortages, but the lack of power made long-term care difficult at home for those with chronic conditions.

"If we can get power back to the people I think that will end up solving a lot of the issues," said Munjal. "Power and clean water will do more for health outcomes than more medical tents."

He said he was moved by a woman in her 60s in considerable knee pain as a result of osteoarthritis.

"She has to stand in line everywhere to get the basic essentials, she was on the 16th floor of a building without power, so she had to go up 16 flights of stairs and down," Munjal told AFP.

"Stories like that, really, I think break your heart."

While an emergency prescription assistance program helps patients without insurance, others are falling through the gap if they have lost work and need to spend precious resources on food and clean water.

The US government has come under fire from Democrats who say the response has been woeful since Hurricane Maria hit the US territory of 3.4 million on September 20, two weeks after Hurricane Irma.

As team leader Conklin said she saw first hand the huge logistical problems facing federal responders in a fluid diaster-response where communications were a challenge without adequate phone service.

"I think honestly that folks were doing the best that they can, but whether people realize that or not is a whole different story," she told AFP.

Around 75 percent of customers are still without electricity and clean water is still scarce in many areas.

"You have to wonder, if you had a state in the United States that went 36 days without power," said New York's Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo on Thursday after a one-day visit. "People would be outraged."

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
US Congress passes $36.5 bn in hurricane, wildfire aid
Washington (AFP) Oct 24, 2017
The US Senate on Tuesday approved a $36.5 billion disaster relief package for hurricane-affected communities like Puerto Rico and for areas devastated by wildfires, sending the bill to President Donald Trump for his signature. The measure outlining "supplemental" disaster spending passed 82 to 17, nearly two weeks after the emergency package cleared the House of Representatives. The aid ... read more

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