Puerto Rico Recovery

President Trump has recently taken a series of what appear to be bold executive actions to reverse Obama-era policies: declining to re-certify the Iran nuclear deal, halting subsidy payments to insurance companies and setting an expiration date for the DACA immigration program. But, in so doing, he's dumping thorny problems on a GOP-controlled Congress already struggling to rack up significant legislative accomplishments.

It's not exactly how Deilanis Santana planned to spend her 13th birthday: waking up before dawn, packing up her life – and heading to Connecticut to live with her grandma.

But here she is at Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport in San Juan, three weeks after Hurricane Maria, waiting anxiously like many other Puerto Ricans for flights to destinations like Miami, Philadelphia, and other cities. The gates are crowded with children — Deilanis among them — leaving their homes, and sometimes their families, to live in the U.S. mainland and go to school.

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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:

When it rains in Puerto Rico, it rains hard and it rains fast. And this week — three weeks after Hurricane Maria — it has rained a lot.

For portions of the island – especially in the mountains and in the valleys – that rain brings a continual trauma of mudslides and flooding. Even in San Juan, highway exits pool with a foot or more of water. In restaurants with cell service, the S.O.S alarms on phones ring out in a cacophony – warning of flash floods. But the capital city has fared comparatively well — it's the rural places that are doing much, much worse.

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.

More than two weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, the island's power grid remains in shambles, and authorities say it will take months to fully restore electricity.

Nearly 90 percent of the island is still without power, which means millions of people remain without electricity weeks after the storm, says José H. Román Morales, president of Puerto Rico's Energy Commission, which regulates the island's electric power authority.

Every Sunday since Hurricane Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, Ada Reyes and her four children have walked half an hour to church. Down a winding road, dodging fallen trees and debris, they walk past concrete houses still bearing flood marks, and finally cross the Vivi — a small river in Utuado, a city in the central mountain region.

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.

The Breakroom returns! We discuss robot chefs, Amazon’s new HQ, and Nintendo brining back some 16 bit magic. We also examine Trump's handling of Puerto Rico, middle fingers, and gun laws, or lack thereof… Joining us this week are Kathy Lohr, Hector Fernandez, Christian Zsilavetz, and Greg Williams.

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)

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There are nearly 6,500 troops and support staff deployed to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands as part of the government’s relief response to the devastation of Hurricane Maria. Among the military units already helping is the 45th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron. The Air Force Reserve unit is flying medical patients to the mainland U.S.

Bobbie O’Brien of WUSF visited the squadron’s staging area at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa.

Updated at 8:24 p.m. ET

President Trump traveled Tuesday to devastated Puerto Rico following his administration's maligned response to Hurricane Maria. But as soon as he stepped off the plane, the president was in a self-congratulatory mood.

In a hurricane briefing Trump praised his Cabinet, contrasted the devastation with "a real catastrophe like [Hurricane] Katrina," threw in an aside about how much Puerto Rico recovery was costing the U.S., and later was filmed throwing paper towels into a crowd as part of efforts to distribute supplies.

Charlottesville, Killer Mike, Colin Mochrie

Hurricane Maria slammed the entire U.S. territory of Puerto Rico two weeks ago. Maria came hard on the havoc of other storms, leaving the entire island dreadfully damaged, flooded, without basic necessities, and difficulty distributing what they did have, and no electricity. Nearly 90,000 Puerto Ricans live in Georgia, nearly a fourth of them in Cobb and Gwinnett Counties. Cynthia Román-Hernández is a Managing Director with the Latin American Association in Atlanta, and her husband Juan Carlos Rodriguez is an assistant professor at Georgia Tech.

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.

Rain is pouring straight through the bare wooden beams that used to be Angel Joel Alvarez Lopez's roof.

Hurricane Maria razed off half of the tin roof, and blasted all but three of his windows clean out of the wooden walls. A supporting wall fell off and has been hastily pounded back into place.

Residents of La Perla are still waiting for help.

The notoriously dangerous barrio of candy colored homes is bordered by the Caribbean on one side and the ancient city walls of Old San Juan on the other.

As in the rest of Puerto Rico, people here remain without electricity or access to clean drinking water, food and supplies, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria.

Desperate residents have painted messages on plywood boards: "S.O.S., we need help. Water, provisions. Don't abandon us. Despacito."

Over a San Juan freeway overpass, near the low-income Playita community, there's a sign that reads, "SOS Playita Needs Water and Food."

It was a cry for help put up by residents who say they waited more than a week after the storm without receiving any outside aid.

There was a feeling, says 21-year-old Edison Rodriguez, that his community was "running out of time. That you can only have so much water, so much food [between] each other. That's why they put out those signs outside."

Eight-year-old Yan Anthony Hernandez has deep dimples on each side of his smile. Somehow, he managed to sleep through the hurricane that roared over his home in Isabela, Puerto Rico. Unlike those living in wooden houses, his cement home held up.

But now, there's no electricity or cellphone service, and his school is closed. Instead of spending his free time on his Playstation or watching YouTube videos as he usually does, he's a little bored.

A laborer named Angel Ramos used to gather mangos and avocados that grew wild in the hills above the city of Cayey, in Puerto Rico's east. The woods were verdant, they smelled of fecundity — and made him feel part of creation.

Then the hurricane came.

"I climbed up to see what the mountain looks like. Oh, the sadness," Ramos says. "I see the uprooted trees. The naked limbs. It makes you want to cry when you to see it. How it's destroyed. It is torturous to look at."

More than a week after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, most of the island remains without electricity, food and drinkable water. On Sunday, President Trump criticized the U.S. territory's pleas for help and tweeted that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them."

But before that, one famous New York break dancer took it upon himself to do something for his people on the island.

There's lots of new info this week for those thinking about college, plus many other education topics in our weekly roundup.

Schools on the mainland brace for Puerto Rican students

There is no date to reopen schools in the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory of Puerto Rico. Education Week reports that relief efforts are currently focused on meeting the basic needs of children and families.

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