DENVER – A Chicago-based beer brewing company with Colorado roots is stepping up to help millions of people in Puerto Rico affected by the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Maria.
MillerCoors has already delivered 65,000 cans of water to the island and has committed to 150,000 more for a total of 215,000 cans of drinking water.
Those cans are in addition to the more than 375,000 cans the company already donated to help in relief efforts after Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the Texas Gulf Coast and the Florida west coast, respectively.
The company has partnered with United Airlines to deliver the thousands of cans of water to the area and are now awaiting on word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the Red Cross to send the rest of the cans, according to MillerCoors spokesman Marty Maloney.
The Associated Press reports many Puerto Ricans located outside of the capital of San Juan have not seen much help from the government, much less the FEMA, since the storm tore up the island on Sept. 20, killing at least 16 people and leaving nearly all 3.4 million people in the island without power and most without water.
The AP also reports the recovery in the first week since the storm has largely been a do-it-yourself concern.
The news agency reports people are collecting water from wells and streams, clear roads and repair their own homes when they are not waiting in daylong lines for gasoline and diesel.
“For most, the only visible sign of authority are police officers directing traffic, a critical service because traffic lights are out across the island,” an AP reporter said.
Several thousand U.S. federal employees in Puerto Rico are helping with the recovery effort, including officials with FEMA, Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection, who are staged at hotels that before the storm served tourists in the Condado neighborhood or at the convention center that has become a staging ground for relief efforts, the AP reports.
Federal workers have also supplied diesel to generators at hospitals and delivered desperately needed food and water to hard-hit communities across the island. They have repaired the air traffic control systems and power at the airport, which is far from normal operations with only about a dozen commercial flights per day. U.S. agents have also provided security across the island and the Coast Guard has worked with local authorities to restore the sea ports, a vital link because Puerto Rico is almost completely dependent on imports.
In addition, teams from the Army Corps of Engineers are helping to repair the electricity grid and to inspect and look for ways to avert the collapse of a dam near the western town of Quebradillas that has developed a crack and that officials have said could potentially fail. And personnel from Health and Human Services, the Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs have provided care and helped evacuate people from Puerto Rico with chronic medical conditions.
A U.S. Navy hospital ship, the USNS Comfort, whose staff can perform surgeries, also is scheduled to arrive in the coming days, Resident Commissioner Jennifer Gonzalez, the island’s representative in Congress, told the AP.
Federal teams also were scheduled to visit the central mountain town of Aibonito, which was cut off from the rest of the island for five days. Many people began rationing their food and water supplies as they dwindled, unclear of when they would have contact with the outside world.
Gov. Ricardo Rossello and Gonzalez have said they intend to seek more than a billion dollars in federal assistance and they have praised the response to the disaster by President Donald Trump, who plans to visit Puerto Rico next week, as well as FEMA Administrator Brock Long.
Rossello said the main problem is getting enough trucks and drivers to reach people throughout the island, adding that he is getting help from the U.S. mainland including National Guard troops from several states.
Food, water and generators are now at reopened ports waiting to be delivered.
Still, it is hard to avoid the fact that the response looks different than previous ones. After hurricanes in Louisiana, Texas and Florida, waves of power company trucks from other states descended in long convoys, something that is obviously not possible on an island 1,000 miles to the southeast of the mainland. After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in January 2010, the U.S. military sent ships and the skies seemed to be filled with heavy-lift helicopters and planes carrying emergency relief, though the scale of that disaster was far worse.
Hurricane Maria was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 100 years and officials say the cost of recovery will dwarf that of the punishing Hurricane Georges in 1998.
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