Help Slow To Arrive In Puerto Rico

Sep 30, 2017
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And our Mandalit del Barco traveled to the northwestern side of Puerto Rico where there is no power, virtually no cell service, dwindling food and water. She spoke with people in Auguadilla and Isabela about how they are faring.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: I saw some graffiti that read - dear Army, we need help and H20. The countryside was - has always been a very lush green. And it's now a tangle of dry palm trees and uprooted ceiba trees. There are bees swarming everywhere, lost from their homes. You see broken power lines and wires dangling over the roads, piles of garbage and debris and long, long lines that stretch for miles of people in cars waiting to get gasoline, sometimes for eight or 12 hours. People who are able to get a bit of fuel drive to spots near cell towers to be able to make calls and get some information. At the airport in Auguadilla, I met Anthony Alvarez, who was hoping to get some diesel. He's a lumberjack who says he was finally able after eight days after the hurricane to make a call to his family on the mainland who had been worried sick.

ANTHONY ALVAREZ: Everybody start screaming and yelling. And they didn't even know we were alive. And then my grandma's over here. Everybody start crying about my grandmother, too. Thank God I take good care of her, but she's 77 years old. And she don't got water. She don't got lights. She don't got nothing left in her house.

SIMON: Yeah. Mandalit, how are people living there?

DEL BARCO: Well, like in other parts of the island, some of the houses that were built out of concrete and rebar were beaten up, but they're still standing. And people are beginning to clean those up. But others who lost their homes are living in shelters, some of them very precariously because they need oxygen ventilators or dialysis machines. And the few generators there are can go out at any time. And in the more rural areas, people are drinking from the creeks that run through the farmland. I met a man named Boris Culbero. He worries about those areas that are even more cut off.

BORIS CULBERO: Here - can I be straight? - and no bad words. I feel like the Christians when the Romans were. They throw us to the lions (laughter).

DEL BARCO: Who threw you to the lions?

CULBERO: The central government. They haven't taken care of the west coast at all - at all.

SIMON: Mandalit, President Trump says he will visit Puerto Rico on Tuesday. Do people know that he's coming?

DEL BARCO: They do know that he's coming. And unlike some of the people in other parts of the United States who are angry with him that it's taken so long, the people I met are pretty hopeful that the island will finally receive some help once President Trump sees for himself what's happening here. You know, I met a little 8-year-old boy named Yan Anthony Hernandez. He stays at a shelter at the Boys & Girls Club in Auguadilla because they don't want to - he doesn't want to be home alone in the dark. And this is what he had to say to the president.

YAN ANTHONY HERNANDEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

DEL BARCO: He says, "so stop tweeting and come help the people."

SIMON: NPR's Mandalit del Barco in Puerto Rico.

Thanks so much.

DEL BARCO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.