Puerto Rico

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

It will be months before we learn how much Hurricane Maria costs Puerto Rico. The island was already facing bankruptcy. Now its fortunes are even lower. NPR's Tom Gjelten reports that the smallest businesses are in the most trouble.

Luis Cruz and Esther Gomez had always considered moving to Florida from Puerto Rico. The weather and proximity made it an ideal destination; plus, the couple had family scattered across the state. They just didn't know when they'd take the big step.

Then Hurricane Maria hit. Three weeks after the storm wiped out the island's power grid, less than 20 percent of people have electricity and 64 percent have drinking water.

President Trump posted a series of early morning tweets on Thursday that put the disaster spotlight back on Puerto Rico.

"We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders" in Puerto Rico "forever," President Trump said Thursday, hinting at a possible limit on federal aid to the island territory where 3.4 million Americans have struggled to recover from two destructive hurricanes.

Here are the president's comments on the issue, compressed from three consecutive tweets:

The schools in Puerto Rico are facing massive challenges.

All the public schools are without electricity, and more than half don't have water. More than 100 are still functioning as shelters.

But Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, tells us that the schools that are open are serving as connection points for communities. They've become a place where children and their families can eat a hot meal and get some emotional support, too.

Back-to-school season didn't last long this year in Puerto Rico. First Hurricane Irma and then Maria forced schools to close and turned the lives of students and their families upside down.

Puerto Rico's secretary of education, Julia Keleher, says that of the U.S. territory's 1,113 public schools, 22 reopened last week and another 145 this week. They're hoping that the majority will be open by Oct. 23. Some are still functioning as emergency shelters.

The past few days have been particularly chaotic, even for a president who seems to thrive on self-created chaos.

There's been a feud with a key Republican senator, a flare-up at a professional football game with President Trump instructing his vice president to walk out when players (on the most activist team in the NFL) knelt during the national anthem, and he even questioned the IQ of his secretary of state.

Puerto Ricans say it's taller than the Statue of Liberty and the largest homage to Christopher Columbus in the world. It's a towering 350-foot-tall statue of the explorer and it's perched on the island's waterfront. While the statue survived Hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico more than two weeks ago, the town it resides in wasn't as lucky.

It's tough to do justice to the huge sculpture that towers over Arecibo, a beach town on Puerto Rico's northern coast some 50 miles from the capital San Juan.

Since Hurricane Maria, people in Puerto Rico have been without easy access to electricity, clean drinking water, or food. Many are still staying in shelters; some are living in the ruins of their homes. The once-lush green trees were stripped bare and uprooted.

But all is not lost.

There are two quintessential Puerto Rican sounds that survived:

One is the plaintive song of the tiny coqui frog.

The other is the improvised Afro-Puerto Rican call-and-response musical tradition known as Plena.

Every day across Puerto Rico, with its shattered power grid, hospitals are waging a life-and-death battle to keep their patients from getting sicker in the tropical heat. Now two weeks after the storm, about three-quarters of Puerto Rico's hospitals remain on emergency power. This creates dangerous conditions for critically ill patients.

Ever since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico last month, President Trump has been pointing out the commonwealth's "massive debt," as he has put it.

And then on Tuesday on Fox News, he warned Puerto Rico's investors that "you can say goodbye" to the debt issued by the battered U.S. territory.

It wasn't clear exactly what Trump meant by that. But the president's views on Puerto Rico's troubles may have been informed by his own experiences there. Not long ago, he himself ended up on the wrong side of a bet on Puerto Rico's financial health.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

President Trump has surprised a lot of people with some comments on Puerto Rico's debt crisis. The U.S. territory owes some $73 billion to bondholders, money that it's been unable to pay. In an interview on Fox News last night, the president seemed to suggest that the bondholders aren't going to get their money back.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

U.S. Department of Defense

Hurricane Maria slammed the entire U.S. territory of Puerto Rico two weeks ago. Maria came hard on the havoc of other recent storms, leaving the entire island damaged, flooded, without basic necessities, with disrupted supply lines and no electricity.

Updated at 10:10 p.m. ET

Millions of people in Puerto Rico need fuel, water, food and medicine. More than a week after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, major infrastructure is still down. Stores have trouble filling their shelves. Families are running low on the supplies they stockpiled before the storm, and across the island, many residents say they haven't seen any aid deliveries.

Meanwhile, at the port in San Juan, row after row of refrigerated shipping containers sit humming. They've been there for days, goods locked away inside.

One week after Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, many on the island say they’re still waiting for help. Most of the island’s 3.4 million people remain without electricity. Food, water, fuel and cell service are scarce, especially outside the capital of San Juan, where thousands of federal employees from FEMA and other agencies are coordinating relief efforts.

Hurricane Maria left destruction throughout Puerto Rico when it slammed the island last week. It also tore down most of the communications infrastructure that connects the U.S. territory with the rest of the world, including the millions of Puerto Ricans living on the mainland.

Last month, Hurricane Harvey brought unprecedented flooding to the Houston area. More than two weeks ago, Hurricane Irma hit Florida as a remarkably massive and long-lasting storm.

Those storms have long since dissipated. Now much of the focus has shifted to Hurricane Maria, which remains an active storm — a storm that caused devastation in Puerto Rico, which is still reeling from the immediate impact.

Much-needed supplies are either in Puerto Rico or on the way, officials say, but the island's governor acknowledges that they can't deliver fuel and other material quickly enough. Frustrated residents face long lines for fuel, as millions of people have gone nearly a week without power.

"We need resources and security. We need a quicker logistical deployment," Gov. Ricardo Rossello told NPR's Mary Louise Kelly on Tuesday. "You know, the gas and fuel issue is not a matter of how much do we have — it's a matter of how we can distribute it."

In a tiny sliver of shade, on a hill next to Puerto Rico's Route 65, Kiara Rodriguez de Jesus waves a sparkly pink hand fan to keep cool.

"I trust in God," she says. "Please, come the gas."

Along with her family, parked in a Volvo SUV, she has been in line for gasoline since 3 a.m., she says. Now it's after 1:30 p.m. And like everyone else at this gas station, she has no idea how much longer she'll be waiting.

Updated at 11 p.m. ET

Puerto Rico is trying to start the process of recovering from Hurricane Maria — and it's doing so after the powerful storm blew homes apart, filled roads with water and tore at its infrastructure. Flash floods are persisting, and the island has no electricity service.

"We are without power, the whole island is without power," Jenniffer González-Colón, Puerto Rico's resident commissioner — its representative in Congress — told Morning Edition on Thursday. González-Colón spoke from Carolina, near San Juan.

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