Governor-Elect Phil Murphy and his wife Tammy will be leaving today to visit Puerto Rico and tour areas hit by Hurricane Maria. Let’s look at the early impact of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, what remains to be done, and how Murphy can help. The photo above gives you an idea of the horror that struck the island, not unlike scenes from our Superstorm Sandy. However, more than three months later the majority of the 3.4 million Americans are still without electricity and far too many are living in conditions that simply would not be tolerated on the mainland. Murphy can help those who are seeking refuge in New Jersey, and with our congressional delegation he can work to assure that the federal government provides the assistance needed.
THE IMMEDIATE IMPACT OF THE STORM
(On the left) family members cross a river in Morovis to get to their houses because the river destroyed the bridge that had connected them with the access road. Flying over rural areas just after the storm, photographer Dennis Manuel Rivera wrote, “There was total devastation. It was like a big fire had passed through and left everything brown. Then you saw all the houses without roofs, and tile floors covered with debris. That’s when it became real for me.” The N Y Times found that 1,052 more people than usual, particularly those with chronic conditions, died on the island during the 42 days after the hurricane. “Hamilton” creator Lin-Manuel Miranda in a Post op-ed, describes his uncle going 85 days without being able to turn on a light, stock a refrigerator or take a hot shower.
WHAT REMAINS TO BE DONE
Javier Cabrera (left) sifts through scraps at a makeshift junk yard set up in Aibonito. The early phase of work is now over, and it’s clear there are still enormous problems with far too many people living in conditions that simply would not be tolerated on the mainland. Only 64 percent of the power grid has been restored. Problems include destroyed homes, damaged farms, fewer food shops, non-functioning cell towers, people in shelters, lack of access to clean water, joblessness, insufficient/poor health care, and a full-fledged mental-health crisis. The long-term work of rebuilding is now up to the local government, federal agencies, and Congress.
WHAT MURPHY CAN DO IN NJ & IN CONGRESS
There are already some 500,000 Puerto Ricans in NJ. Their numbers are growing as desperate islanders seek refuge here. Some send their children to the mainland like (on the left) of Norma Navarro Ortiz who brought her grandchildren Sebastian Rivera, 6, and Andrew Amy, 4, to stay with her sister in Hackensack. Some who were seriously ill were able to get flights to our local hospitals, and others who can’t find work are coming to seek employment. Governor Murphy should create a task force of cabinet members to enhance opportunities for work, assure medical care, aid with finding housing, and help them navigate the paperwork and rules regarding available services.
There are remedies that Murphy and our congressional delegation can request of the federal government. Roberto Figueroa Caballero (on the left) sits on a small table in what is left of his home with no walls, roof, electricity, running water, telephone, or sewer system – a microcosm suggesting the breadth of the tasks ahead. PR’s governor has requested a $94 billion aid package. Rep. Pallone after touring the island said, it needs $100 billion for restoration. Essentially in bankruptcy this U. S. territory will require a certain amount of debt forgiveness, something which Trump in his business world received. The new tax bill creates excise taxes on “foreign jurisdictions” which includes P.R, but would cost some 250,000 jobs. The island receives only a small portion of the Medicaid funding that it would qualify for as a state.
These are remedial steps Gov. Murphy must take and they would cost N.J. little. In September Murphy said, “Now more than ever, we must stand with our Puerto Rican community and let them know we have their back. Together we can help Puerto Rico recover and help its people get back on their feet.” May his actions match his words.