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DISASTER MANAGEMENT
Trump tells Puerto Rico to be 'proud' of low storm toll
By Leila MACOR, Jerome CARTILLIER, with Andrew BEATTY in Washington
Guaynabo, Puerto Rico (AFP) Oct 4, 2017


Volunteer doctors help people hit by hurricane in Puerto Rico
Humacao, Puerto Rico (AFP) Oct 3, 2017 - A handful of doctors and nurses walked into a shelter in storm-battered eastern Puerto Rico and asked what people's most urgent health needs are.

"Water!" shouted a group of people left homeless by the storm.

No one here -- neither the shelter's medical staff, nor its managers, nor any of the 24 people who had taken refuge -- had received government aid since Hurricane Maria tore across the island on September 20, knocking out its power grid and most communications links.

Among those in the shelter: a 21-year-old woman with a baby born two days after an earlier hurricane, Irma, whipped Puerto Rico on September 8. Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria delivered a knockout blow.

"It has been awful. You don't feel good. You can't wash up because there is no water or electricity," said the young woman, as she cradled the infant on her lap.

The woman's home had flooded and is filled with mud. She appears tired, and her skin is sticky due to the heat and humidity.

"I never thought something like this would happen to me," said the woman, who declined to give her name.

The volunteers brought three cases of medicine. They clean a man's foot whose ugly wounds have festered due to complications from diabetes.

"The pharmacies are closed because of the lack of electricity and I only have enough insulin for a week. So instead of using it twice a day, I use it once," said Alberto Ramos, 52, as nurses removed his bandage.

Horidell Febo, a volunteer endocrinologist, recommends that staff store the insulin in bags of water to keep it as cool as possible. There is no electricity or back up generator, and the stifling heat is overwhelming.

"We need a lot of insulin for the patients and glucometers because when many people lost their homes, they also lost the kits for measuring their blood sugar," the doctor said.

"The most urgent need is electricity or at least diesel fuel to run the generators. And clean water. That is very important now because of the risk of epidemics."

- Donations from NGOs -

The beach in Humacao is eroded, and the fierce tide ate away chunks of the coastal road. The trees are leafless and missing branches, and the town caked in mud and prone to flooding.

Four members of the Puerto Rican National Guard are clearing rubble from the street. The few electrical pylons that were not knocked down by the storm lean over helplessly, held up by hanging cables.

Help is slowly starting to arrive, but Humacao residents say it is from people who share what little they have, aid organizations or overseas NGOs.

No one has seen Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) workers or anyone from the US military.

Puerto Rico is a US territory of 3.4 million residents. People here blame Washington for what they say has been a slow response to the disaster.

But President Donald Trump, who headed to the island Tuesday to see the damage first hand, defends his administration's actions and blames local leaders for not worked efficiently.

"Here they have not brought anything," said Lorena Lugo, 45, who also lost her house. "Right now I have six bottles of water for three people. These are the first doctors I have seen."

These volunteers are part of a group of 100 doctors, psychologists and medical students who meet every morning in San Juan and set out to visit shelters. They are funded with donations received from private parties and foreign NGOs.

The shelter-dwellers' prolonged stay is now causing side problems.

"Many cases of infection are arising because we have a lot of people crammed into small places without proper hygiene," said Victor Ramos, president of the Puerto Rican Surgeon's Association.

President Donald Trump shook hands with storm survivors in Puerto Rico and told them to be "proud" the island did not lose more lives to Hurricane Maria, on a trip designed to quiet criticism of his administration's response to the disaster.

The US president, alongside First Lady Melania Trump, visited the middle class suburb of Guaynabo, walking among trees and signs felled two weeks ago by Maria's jet-blast winds.

Trump asked residents about their homes, posed for photos and stopped into a church along the way to shoot rolls of paper towel basketball-style into a crowd snapping pictures on their cellphones.

Nearly two weeks after Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the island remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water.

The administration's critics said the early response was not fast enough or on a scale that could help the island's 3.4 million American citizens.

A fortnight later, seven percent of the island has electricity, more than 9,000 people are living in shelters, and just 40 percent of telecommunications are back up. Thousands of homes -- most of them made of wood -- have been destroyed, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

After touching down at Muniz Air National Guard Base, beginning his five hour trip, Trump rallied disaster management workers telling them they "can be very proud" of their response.

But many of the president's comments appeared to be aimed at quieting his own critics. He invited officials to say "nice things" about the response and contrasted it with previous storms.

"We saved a lot of lives." Trump said, comparing the outcome favorably to that of Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans in 2005.

"If you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died and what happened here with a storm that was just totally overbearing."

"No one has ever seen anything like that. What is your death count?" he asked. At the time, the number of dead stood at 16.

"I hate to tell you Puerto Rico but you threw our budget a little out of whack, but that's fine," Trump said.

He later described the response as "nothing short of a miracle."

Later, Governor Ricardo Rossello announced the death toll had more than doubled.

"This morning we were at 16; now 34 have been identified" he told a briefing.

Rossello said the deaths included drownings, injuries from homes collapsing, and people on respirators who died because there was no power to run the equipment.

- Choreographed -

Before traveling to the island, Trump had feuded with local officials over the pace of the relief effort, berating San Juan's mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz and suggesting Puerto Ricans were "ingrates" who "want everything to be done for them."

Luckily for the White House, few Puerto Ricans have had the time or -- quite literally the energy -- to read or hear of the president's barbed remarks.

There has been some anger in Puerto Rico that Trump chose to visit Guaynabo -- a relatively affluent area, where most homes are of weather-proof concrete -- unlike in the worst-hit areas of the island.

But the president's visit was carefully choreographed to avoid any embarrassing protests.

Along the route of his motorcade a single sign declared him a "bad hombre."

A dozen protestors could be seen in front of San Juan's Convention Center, where the government established their operations.

Later Trump surveyed the damage from the air before landing on the USS Kearsarge to greet Navy and Marine Corps servicemen and women.

Already this storm season, Trump has visited damaged areas of Florida, Louisiana and Texas (twice).

But his trip to Puerto Rico, normally a fairly routine show of presidential empathy, took on outsized political meaning.

Though Puerto Ricans are US citizens with US passports, they can only vote in presidential primaries.

If they live on the island, they cannot vote in US presidential elections. If they are living on the mainland, they can register to vote including for president, in whichever state they live.

Trump has been pilloried by political opponents for moving more slowly to help Puerto Rico than he did Texas or Florida.

"I don't remember the president telling Texas that they threw our budget out of whack after Harvey, or Florida after Irma," said top Senate democrat Chuck Schumer.

"That's what we do in America. When one part of the country has trouble, the rest of the country reaches out to them and says 'We're going to help you.'"

DISASTER MANAGEMENT
MIT engineers attempt to predict extreme events
Washington (UPI) Sep 22, 2017
Can a new mathematical framework pinpoint the warning signs before an extreme event? A group of engineers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology think so. Researchers at MIT have developed a set of mathematical equations that can be used to identify patterns that precede extreme events, like a rogue wave or instability inside a gas turbine. "Currently there is no method to ... read more

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