Puerto Ricans sharply rebuke President Trump, along with the federal and local governments, for last year’s response to Hurricane Maria, a devastating storm that created an enduring humanitarian crisis affecting nearly all aspects of life on the island territory, according to a new Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll.
Nearly a year after Maria hit Puerto Rico, people say they are still struggling with basic necessities. Fully 83 percent reported either major damage to their homes, losing power for more than three months, employment setbacks or worsening health problems, among other effects of the storm. The power is spotty, and many are leery of drinking the water. Roads are damaged, dangerous and difficult to navigate — like “the surface of the moon,” according to one resident — and in some places, the roadways remain impassible.
“We’re living day by day, and we’re living with hope that things might get better, but they have not,” said Jorge Antonio Rodriguez Zayas, a 55-year-old diabetes educator from Bayamon. He thinks the federal response was disorganized and gives low marks to Trump.
Trump has long maintained that his administration’s recovery effort in Puerto Rico was appropriate and effective, saying the federal government did “a fantastic job” there. He reiterated that point Tuesday, in remarks in the Oval Office, when he called the response to the hurricane in the U.S. territory “an incredible, unsung success.” On Wednesday morning, touting the government’s preparation for the impending landfall of Hurricane Florence along the East Coast this week, Trump tweeted that his administration “did an unappreciated great job in Puerto Rico.”
“It’s amazing that he really believes that,” Zayas said of Trump’s consistent position on the Puerto Rico recovery effort.
Puerto Ricans say the lackluster response to the hurricane, which ravaged the island in September 2017, was due to a failure of government at all levels, from the president down to municipal authorities. Eighty percent of Puerto Ricans rate Trump’s response to Maria negatively, an assessment that contradicts the president’s claim two weeks ago that “most of the people in Puerto Rico appreciate what we’ve done.”
More than 7 in 10 residents give negative marks to the Puerto Rican government’s efforts, while two-thirds criticize the response of Gov. Ricardo Rosselló. Smaller majorities are critical of the response from both federal and municipal authorities.
Beyond disappointment, most Puerto Ricans see the federal government as apathetic about helping the U.S. territory recover. A 55 percent majority believes rebuilding Puerto Rico is not a priority for the U.S. government, and roughly 6 in 10 say the federal response to Maria was worse because of the island’s lack of statehood.
“The president of the United States has to remember that we’re Puerto Ricans; if you like it or not, we’re part of the United States, too,” said Ramon Pachaco, 58, who lives in Ponce, a city on the island’s southern coast.
The Post-Kaiser survey, conducted face to face among 1,500 randomly selected Puerto Ricans in July and August, is the first to gauge residents’ experiences during and after Maria’s landfall and their views of recovery efforts. The survey finds that the storm had an extraordinary impact across the island, with significant problems persisting nearly one year later:
• Two-thirds say the storm caused major or minor damage to their homes, and most of them say the structures have not been restored to their original condition.
• Ninety-three percent say their areas need more resources to repair roads and highways.
• Fifty percent say people in their households could not get enough water to drink; 53 percent say they are still worried about quality of water in their homes.
Deaths due to the storm and its aftermath have long been a contentious issue; the Puerto Rican government for months maintained that 64 people died in the hurricane, despite evidence of a far greater death toll. A study published in August by George Washington University said there was a spike in mortality across Puerto Rico in the six months after the storm, with an estimated 2,975 excess deaths attributed to the hurricane and its aftermath. Most of those deaths occurred more than a month after the storm hit.