A man rides his bicycle through a damaged road in Toa Alta, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico, on September 24, 2017 following the passage of Hurricane Maria.

Nearly all of Puerto Rico, home to 3.4 million American citizens, remains without power almost a week after Hurricane Maria struck the island and destroyed its electrical grid. Residents lack telephone service and face severe food, water and gasoline shortages. Governor Ricardo Rosselló, who called the situation a “humanitarian crisis,” urged Congress to approve an aid package this week. We discuss the dire situation in Puerto Rico and how the U.S. government is responding.

Guests:
Dave Graham, Reuters reporter based in San Juan
Patrick-André Mather, professor of French and linguistics, University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras
Justin Vélez-Hagan, economist and executive director, National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce
John Mutter, professor of earth and environmental sciences, and international and public affairs, Columbia University
Lisa Diaz Melendez, project coordinator, Brandvia Alliance; native of Puerto Rico who has family on the island

Related Links:

How To Soften the Blow From Recent Hurricanes and Earthquakes
(NPR)
How to Help Puerto Rico and Other Islands After Hurricane Maria
(New York Times)

Nearly a Week After Hurricane Maria, Millions in Puerto Rico Without Power, Water 27 September,2017Michael Krasny

  • EIDALM

    Sad to say, but this real message from Gaia, God, etc to Donald Trump, and other global climate change deniers…..Yes Donald Trump, there is catastrophic global climate change and global warming,your reckless politics may put an end to life on the planet…….Total shame.,

    • Skip Conrad

      Everybody all knows the climate of the earth was very different in the past, and will be different in the future. Nobody disputes this. Trump does not deny this.

      The sticky point is whether humans are accelerating the process or having a insignificant effect on the process. Climate is going to change whether humans inhabit the planet or not.

      The issue is poorly framed. The issue has been highly politicized

      • EIDALM

        The simple fact the more CO2 and CH4 gases we throw in the atmosphere, the less heat escape the planet and that add up constantly…..It is the same as when you go to bed in very cold winter night, the more blankets you use to cover yourself, the warmer you get,…Just to remind you for every gallon of gasoline you burn in your car, it produces 19.6 pounds of CO2 and all goes into the atmosphere

        • Another Mike

          Were it not for burning fossil fuels, CO2 would be in equilibrium — the CO2 emitted by animals and burning would be taken up by plants growing contemporaneously. But I don’t know about methane — a natural product of anerobic decomposition of animal waste.

      • thisismyaccount

        please share your credentials and research? Or are you just reading your breitbart talking points?

    • Another Mike

      I’m old enough to remember the 1960s, which began with Hurricane Donna, followed in later years by Cleo and Betsy, and ended with Hurricane Camille, the second worst to ever strike the US.

      What was the state of global warming back then?

      • thisismyaccount

        When did anyone say that climate change invented hurricanes? It is a matter of degree and no single event defines climate change. If you really want to understand the problem do some real research don’t just spout faux news talking points ok?

    • Curious

      You are ill-informed.

  • Another Mike

    Puerto Rico’s bankrupt government-owned electric utility is having a hard time getting back online? They were barely functioning pre-hurricane.

    • optikool

      Did you have a point here, or were you just stating common knowledge?

      • Another Mike

        A doctor has come to see one of his patients in a hospital. The patient has had major surgery to both of his hands.

        “Doctor,” says the man excitedly, and dramatically holds up his heavily bandaged hands. “Will I be able to play the piano when these bandages come off?”

        “I don’t see why not,” replies the doctor.

        “That’s fantastic,” says the man. “I never could play piano before.”

        It’s unrealistic to expect that FEMA could restore the electric utility to a condition it didn’t have, pre-hurricane.

  • Another Mike

    On a side note: every news story covering disaster response shows plentiful supplies of bottled water. This is only possible because bottled water is part of Americans’ everyday life. I wonder if this has caused SF’s Board of Supervisors to rethink their bottled water ban. If not, how do they propose to get water to residents when the Big One hits?

  • Another Mike

    Putting things in perspective: when Hurricane Andrew flattened Homestead, Florida in 1992, residents went without electricity for 43 days. What lessons did Puerto Rico learn from the Homestead experience?

    • optikool

      What kind of perspective are we looking at here? Andrew cause 26+ billion in damage in 1992. If the same hurricane hit South Florida today, estimates say it would cost around 100 billion…

      • Another Mike

        Homestead was on the US mainland, filled with US citizens, and next to an US Air Force base. And still residents went without power for 43 days.

        • optikool

          Puerto Rico is projecting not having power for 6 months. I don’t see the similarity.

          • Another Mike

            Homestead had the advantage of being connected to the Eastern grid. Puerto Rico knew it could buy no power from any other utility.

  • Another Mike

    The Jones Act merely requires that when shipping from one US port to the other, only US-flagged ships can be used.

    • pm05

      and, because of this, Puerto Rico has to pay double or more on all products being shipped in. It is a big problem.

      • Another Mike

        Americans earning a living wage is a big problem for you?

    • Ehkzu

      …and the Republican “government” waived the Jones act requirement for the mainland areas (Texas, Florida) hammered by Harvey and Irma. It’s only the merest coincidence that Texas and Florida vote Republican, while Puerto Ricans can’t vote at all.

  • Another Mike

    Was Puerto Rico not required to set up a disaster plan? It’s not like hurricanes were unknown in the Caribbean.

    • William – SF

      When your plan is depended on some amount of infrastructure (airports, roads, electricity, …) and that doesn’t exist, you’re plan is null and void. You are now dependent on others.

  • pm05

    It is not Americans who need to understand that Puerto Rico is U.S. territory with U.S. citizens. It is Trump who doesn’t seem to understand or care. He is the one we need to be shouting/screaming at to help fellow Americans…
    Apparently someone finally was able to get it through Trump’s thick skull to do his job !!!

    • Curious

      LOL!! Everyone, except partisan lefties like you, say Trump is doing a fantastic jub.

      • thisismyaccount

        Republicons can’t handle disasters because they are a disaster.

        • Curious

          Yep. Like New Orleans and Detroit and Chicago.

  • Mel

    Does FEMA have portable solar arrays that can be air-dropped with food and water so people can at least have light, communication and potentially refrigeration and power tools? Is a solution like this being considered for Puerto Rico? Solar would take the pressure off the fuel demands of generators. Looking at the Bay Area, each home should have a small solar kit of the sort that’s used on RV’s now, or at least a solar phone charger and some solar powered lights. Let’s re-think our earthquake kits as we imagine how our donations are best utilized in the wake of these disasters. Recent innovations can be of huge help.
    Great show, and thanks for the food for thought.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    FEMA? The word emergency means NOW. This is simple logistics and the Feds are dithering with seemingly no one in charge. Who is the “Brownie” on this one? (Brownie was the incompetent who botched the Katrina rescue)

    • Another Mike

      Did you get one of those emergency preparedness kits when you renewed your KQED membership?

      Better have a week’s worth of food and water as well, for when the Big One comes.

    • Bill_Woods

      The Feds have gotten good marks for handling Houston and Florida, but Puerto Rico is a step up in difficulty. It’s a thousand miles from Miami; imagine if disaster relief for San Francisco had to be shipped in from Seattle.

      • Another Mike

        … the vast majority of which had to be carried by vehicles who could not average more than 20 mph.

  • Curious

    Poor Krasny! Desperately trying to get someone to blame Trump.

    • thisismyaccount

      Go back to mississippi alt-right-tool!

  • Curious

    Oh, the humanity! Mather is without air conditioning!

    • Ehkzu

      The inability of Republicans to empathize with anyone who doesn’t look and sound like a Southern white man or his wife…is once again confirmed.

      • Another Mike

        Can residents of a tropical island really complain about tropical heat and humidity?

        They were free to move to the mainland at any time.

    • pm05

      So… you have no idea what it is like to being in 90 degree heat and 90 % humidity — at night! Let alone during the day… okay then.

      • Curious

        Actually, I do. So do hundreds of millions of other people who have done so for centuries.

      • Another Mike

        I do! I do!
        Where do I collect my prize?

  • Another Mike

    A supertanker like the USS Comfort sails at 19 miles per hour (16.5 knots). Pretty hard to transit an ocean in any reasonable time.

  • Bobby Robbins

    Statehood – will this prompt the citizens of Puerto Rico to overwhelmingly vote to lobby for statehood? Wondering if this will dramatically sway public opinion on the island.

    • Another Mike

      With statehood will come federal income tax.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Let’s call out NPR on lack of coverage on the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. Less hand-wrining immigration story-telling please to allow for more actual NEWS.

  • 1PeterDuMont2STARALLIANCE8

    This dire situation certainly argues for systematic future under-grounding of utility power poles, widely in Puerto Rico and elsewhere; and further development of self-sufficient local solar power installations. I envision some kind of hurricane-resistant sturdy plastic case, top, anchors, etc. for solar panels that can be closed up before a big storm hits and then unfolded for ready use by a household, neighborhood, hotel, etc. — after the storm has safely passed.

  • Peter

    Can we discuss the pharma industry in PR?

  • William – SF

    If Mar-a-Largo were located in either US Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, would DJT’s response be different?

  • marte48

    I am no fan of Donald Trump, but even I cannot blame him for natural disasters – or for the crippling of FEMA by the Bush administration.

  • Ehkzu

    No single weather event–such as a hurricane–can be ascribed to man-caused climate change. The word “climate” means weather averaged over decades or longer. That said, Harvey, Irma, Maria etc. are consistent with a pattern of increasing intensity of weather events. Hurricane intensity is produced by ocean warming, but it’s mediated by other factors as well. What you can say about hurricanes and climate change is that each one is likely to be more intense than if that particular hurricane had formed on an alternate Earth without man-caused climate change. Thus hundred year storms are becoming 10 year storms.

    • Bill_Woods

      But they aren’t. Not yet, anyway.

      In summary, neither our model projections for the 21st century nor our analyses of trends in Atlantic hurricane and tropical storm counts over the past 120+ yr support the notion that greenhouse gas-induced warming leads to large increases in either tropical storm or overall hurricane numbers in the Atlantic. One modeling study projects a large (~100%) increase in Atlantic category 4-5 hurricanes over the 21st century, but we estimate that this increase may not be detectable until the latter half of the century.

      https://www.gfdl.noaa.gov/global-warming-and-hurricanes/

      • chriswinter

        As I understand it, the hypothesis is that climate change will boost the intensity of storms, but not their number. I suppose Kerry Emmanuel would be the go-to guy on this.

        • Bill_Woods

          “Hypothesis” being the key word.

          Published studies agree in the sign of projected mid-century intensity change (intensification), but the only basin with more than one study exploring intensity is the [North Atlantic]. For the NA, an estimate of the time scale of emergence of projected changes in intense [tropical cyclone (TC)] frequency exceeds 60 years (Bender et al., 2010), although that estimate depends crucially on the amplitude of internal climate variations of intense hurricane frequency (e.g., Emanuel, 2011), which remains poorly constrained at the moment. Therefore, there is low confidence in near-term TC intensity projections in all TC basins.

          https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/wg1/WG1AR5_Chapter11_FINAL.pdf
          (Ch.11, p.992)

          • Robert Thomas

            Reading the survey reports you mention and as a lay person, these conclusions seem properly conservative. I’m unsurprised at NOAA’s and IPCC’s reticence to assign a contemporary surface warming component to the character of immediate weather events . Stochastic processes resist prediction but it’s certain that over time, anthropogenic increase in ocean surface temperature in the North Atlantic cannot other than provide greater energy for the development of tropical storms that develop there. The question is about the rate at which their effect on the intensity of events will reach a significant level.

            In the IPCC report, immediately following the text you quote

            11.3.2.5.3 Tropical cyclones
            “Table 11.2 | Summary of studies exploring near-term projections of tropical cyclone (TC) activity …
            “North Atlantic: Difference 2016–2035 minus 1986–2005 averages: Significant decrease (–20%) to overall TC and hurricane frequency. Significant increase (+45%) in number of Category 4–5 TCs. Significant increase in precipitation of hurricanes (11%) and tropical storms (18%).“[emphasis added]

  • pm05

    RE: military not being deployed. But what about the Army Corp of Civil Engineers?

    • Another Mike

      The Navy’s Seabees would likely be more useful at the moment, and they have supported disaster relief previously.

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Who is the mouthpiece who doesnt know who runs FEMA or that FEMA delayed ? Challenge this apologist, please

  • Robert Thomas

    I’m not a fan of President Trump but cheap recriminations here are misplaced.

    My sister worked for FEMA during the 1990s as a field inspector to assess damage and to help victims to file for aid, on St. Croix after hurricane Hugo and in North Carolina after hurricane Floyd, among other disasters. These were devastating for many thousands of people but pale in comparison to the horror incurred during this storm season. She is now a resident in the Fort Meyers, Florida area and recently herself evacuated to Alabama to avoid danger from Hurricane Irma. Luckily her home escaped significant damage and she has been helping friends an neighbors as she once did when a FEMA employee.

    I know, second hand but pretty vividly, about how difficult it is even when FEMA is operating optimally, since its task is to balance attention to the urgent needs of medical care, water, food, sanitation and shelter on the one hand and attention to people’s financial recovery on the other hand, these situations can utterly overwhelm the nation’s civil capacity. I’m staggered, contemplating the task ahead. It’s fortunate for all, that those quick to express outrage and point fingers aren’t the people we rely upon to actually manage anything.

    • William – SF

      [Hand up] Guilty as charged. But knowing the personality that is DJT, there is some truth to his [lack of] motivations.

      • Robert Thomas

        One has to admit that any actually useful direction or sincerely empathetic reassurances are out of President Trump’s wheelhouse, as they say these days. Let’s see how well the assigned DHS and FEMA professionals cope with these challenges.

    • Student

      A shout out to Robert, your comments here have been really useful.

  • Ehkzu

    Puerto Rico was a basket case before Maria struck. Whose fault is that? It’s not a state. Meaning it’s run by the federal government. Efforts to pump up its economy have failed by and large. It’s overpopulated–in part the fault of the Catholic Church, which forbids its adherents from using contraceptives (even condoms). It’s hampered by the Jones Act far more than mainland ports are.

    All that said, the right wing response–as seen in this comment thread– is “You’re on your own pal” with a sanctimonious overlay I didn’t see being expressed about Texas after Harvey hit or Florida after Irma.

    In the long run it should probably become either a state or given independence. This “neither fish nor fowl” legal status doesn’t appear to be sustainable.

    The Puerto Rico song from West Side Story in the 1950s still applies, sadly.

    • Another Mike

      I read, decades ago, that the single largest source of income for the island at that time was food stamps.

      Independence for a basket case doesn’t make a lot of sense. Further, as it is, Puerto Ricans are free to leave the island to move to the mainland at any time. As a separate country, Puerto Ricans would have to apply for visas or come illegally.

      • Ehkzu

        Selfishly speaking, independence for a basket case makes sense for those who are supplying the basket. There are plenty of small, weak economies that are independent nations–Haiti nearby, for example. Yet the Dominican Republic, on the same island as Haiti, seems to be doing OK.

        Likewise, selfishly speaking, making Puerto Ricans apply for visas and only admitting those who can contribute to the American economy also makes sense.

        But unselfishly speaking, all these American territories with their citizens Americans without a vote in federal elections is odd, to say the least. Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam and over a dozen others all share this “neither fish nor fowl” status. I could see adding all those Pacific islands to Hawaii and make it one state–call it “Pacifica.” Then do the same with Puerto Rico, the USVI, and Navassa (currently uninhabited).

        • De Blo

          Yes! My thoughts exactly.

  • Robert Thomas

    Oh, good grief!

    For such a region to rely on wind generation and solar collection for its electric power infrastructure would be the worst possible choice. No equipment is more vulnerable to hurricane force wind than are wind turbines and solar collection arrays.

    The best course, given sufficient funds, will be to deploy more substantial transmission lines (150kV – 500kV) and improve their mesh interconnection and wherever possible, to bury service lines for subtransmission distribution. Renewable sources would undoubtedly serve the Caribbean islands well during the normal course but cannot be expected to survive such devastating meteorological events.

    Honestly, what goes on in people’s brains?

    • Another Mike

      That danged Bernouilli effect! Winds that can rip the roofs off houses will also rip the solar panels off roofs.

      • Robert Thomas

        It’s possible that by using engineering developed for commercial and K-12 school parking lots etc. that practical and economical solar collection could be deployed in 1/4 hectare or 1/2 hectare distributed collection nodes, that could be hardened to survive 50kn-plus wind AND that could be economically properly maintained. The cartoon fantasy promulgated by solar collection enthusiasts that a happy little society covered by happy little rooftop collectors could bring a region even so wealthy, so technologically savvy and so meteorologically placid as the Bay Area to joyous volt-amp nirvana has become so pervasive that now poor people thousands of miles away are physically imperiled by the psychedelia of ding-a-ling pseudo-engineers.

        My sister is well acquainted, I can tell you, with the strictures that insurance companies place on the tiniest little feature appearing on one’s roof and that draw their attentions during inspections as often as every two years. In Florida – a jurisdiction where few have any love for government regulation – residents are intimately familiar with the rules that insurers impose on such things as roof vent flashing and shingle integration, for crying out loud. Insurers are often found liable when improperly constructed or poorly maintained flying roof components (or even patio screens) impact neighboring properties. They will drop a customer at the first sign of anything the inspector suspects may become a missile- and will immediately alert mortgagers.

    • chriswinter

      I agree. But in the immediate aftermath of the storm, deploying small solar-array/battery systems to those powerless villages would seem to be a feasible way to provide some essential services like communications and nighttime light until the regular power system can be rebuilt.

      • Robert Thomas

        And I agree with you, as well. But the stockpiling of and emergency distribution of such units will be a lot more difficult even than it is for bottled water, which itself presents a serious strain. As for residents keeping their own equipment in case of emergency, even in wealthy locales, maintenance of such systems is hard to guarantee. In Florida recently, many residents found that their generators wouldn’t start, due to lack of maintenance. Battery-dependent power source systems are particularly vulnerable to inadequate maintenance. Though vehicular engineering has increased their reliability very greatly, few people appreciate the intricate complexity and environmental sensitivity of large storage cell arrays that are being charged and completely discharged daily – especially in hot and humid climates. Whenever many joules are stored – as electrochemical potential or as combustable fuel (or in whatever other way, even behind hydroelectric dams) – there is danger of fire or other catastrophic failure.

        Maybe the best direction for your idea would be small systems with foldable collectors that could be used to operate (and charge) cell phones and tablets. Cell towers could be similarly powered, at least during daylight hours (considering the added cost of battery maintenance; also recognize that skilled maintenance staff are hard to retain in such a locale). T-Mobile did this five years ago in rural Pennsylvania (though any follow-up to this project seems hard to find):

        https://www.treehugger.com/solar-technology/t-mobile-usa-builds-its-first-cell-tower-powered-by-solar-energy.html

  • Curious

    Dems are so ignorant.

    Nancy Pelosi claimed that Velazquez “came to America” when she moved from Puerto Rico to New York.

    “You were born and raised there and came to America to be a stark figure here–you became one of the first women to chair an entire committee in the Congress of the United States,” Pelosi bafflingly said.

  • John

    It’s not Trump’s fault! He didn’t know where Puerto Rico was.

  • De Blo

    With the return of Hong Kong to China by the British, Puerto Rico remains the last large colony on the planet. PR has been part of America for 119 years; it is time to finally grant them statehood.

Host

Michael Krasny

Michael Krasny, PhD, has been in broadcast journalism since 1983. He was with ABC in both radio and television and migrated to public broadcasting in 1993. He has been Professor of English at San Francisco State University and also taught at Stanford, the University of San Francisco and the University of California, as well as in the Fulbright International Institutes. A veteran interviewer for the nationally broadcast City Arts and Lectures, he is the author of a number of books, including “Off Mike: A Memoir of Talk Radio and Literary Life” (Stanford University Press) “Spiritual Envy” (New World); “Sound Ideas” (with M.E. Sokolik/ McGraw-Hill); “Let There Be Laughter” (Harper-Collins) as well as the twenty-four lecture series in DVD, audio and book, “Short Story Masterpieces” (The Teaching Company). He has interviewed many of the world’s leading political, cultural, literary, science and technology figures, as well as major figures from the world of entertainment. He is the recipient of many awards and honors including the S.Y. Agnon Medal for Intellectual Achievement; The Eugene Block Award for Human Rights Journalism; the James Madison Freedom of Information Award; the Excellence in Journalism Award from the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association; Career Achievement Award from the Society of Professional Journalists and an award from the Radio and Television News Directors Association. He holds a B.A. (cum laude) and M.A. from Ohio University and a PhD from the University of Wisconsin.

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