As It Happens

'This is devastation,' says mayor of Puerto Rico capital in wake of Hurricane Maria

The mayor of Puerto Rico's capital and largest city says the situation is dire after the island was thrashed by Hurricane Maria — and time may be running out for its most vulnerable citizens.
Residents wade through flood waters at their home on Sept. 22, days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Loiza, Puerto Rico. Many on the island have lost power, running water, and cell phone service after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through. (Alex Wroblewski/Getty Images)

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The mayor of Puerto Rico's capital and largest city says the situation is dire after the island was thrashed by Hurricane Maria — and time may be running out for its most vulnerable citizens.

"This is devastation like I have never seen in my 54 years of life in Puerto Rico," Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told As It Happens host Carol Off.

Much of the Caribbean island, a U.S. territory with a population of 3.4 million, is still without electricity five days after Maria struck with ferocious winds and torrential rains, the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico for nearly a century. 

The storm smashed poles, snarled power lines and flooded electricity-generating plants, knocking out a grid that was already considered antiquated compared to the U.S. mainland.

Generators are providing power to the fortunate few who have them, but nearly all the island's 1.6 million electricity customers were still without power and facing many, many hot days and dark nights to come.

Power had been restored to a handful of hospitals and surrounding areas by Monday afternoon but Public Affairs Secretary Ramon Rosario said it will take months to fully restore power to the island.

Cruz said aid workers, doctors and supplies have come from New York, Cuba, Argentina, Spain and others to help with the recovery operation.

The mayor is most worried about children and the elderly who urgently need care — care that might not reach in time to save lives.

Rescue team member Jonathan Cruz cries on the floor desperate to go out to attend several calls for help from citizens in need of assistance during the impact of Hurricane Maria in Humacao, Puerto Rico, on Sept. 20. (Carlos Giusti/Associated Press)

"It is the children and elderly population that I'm concerned we're not going to get there on time … to provide them enough medication or the help that they need," she said.

Cruz said that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) already has "boots on the ground," but are currently in the surveying and assessment stage of their operation.

There are more than 10,000 federal staff, including more than 700 people from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), doing recovery work in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to FEMA. 

The scale of the destruction left in Hurricane Maria's wake, however, has made the operation dangerous and time-consuming.

"We literally have to go through a place with enough equipment to chop trees, move lighting poles to the side, so that we can move forward," said Cruz.

Residents at La Perla community in Old San Juan comfort one another as the community recovers from Hurricane Maria, in San Juan. (Carlos Giusti/Associated Press)

Despite the dire situation that has befallen her city, however, brief moments of hope offer a silver lining to the horrors of the past week.

"People on the one hand are horrified, they are scared, they are concerned about their primal needs. But on the other hand, whenever help [arrives], there's that embrace that is worth a thousand days of happiness," she said.

"People are out on the streets, they're cleaning, coming together, talking to one another, and we know that nothing is going to stand in the way of us getting back, not to where we were before, but to a better place than we were before."

With files from The Associated Press.

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