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The Devastation of Puerto Rico

The damage is so extensive that some people there are saying that the island has been set back by decades.

The damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is staggering:

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.

In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, many places on the island remain cut off from the outside world, and they are in desperate need of assistance:

Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

The damage is so extensive that some people there are saying that the island has been set back by decades:

Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress said Sunday that Hurricane Maria’s destruction has set the island back decades, even as authorities worked to assess the extent of the damage.

“The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

Providing relief to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has been made more difficult because of the damage to ports and airports, but that makes it all the more critical that the federal government responds to the disaster as swiftly and urgently as possible. The extraordinary amount of damage that the hurricane and flooding have done has to be taken into account when deciding how much aid funding will be required. I said earlier today that Puerto Rico will need a major relief effort, but beyond that it is going to need a large infusion of reconstruction funding to allow for a quick recovery. In the meantime, the administration and Congress need to address the devastation of Puerto Rico with the same attention and concern that they would show if a similar disaster occurred on the mainland, and the public should demand no less from them.

Update: Puerto Rico’s medical services are also under severe strain in the wake of the hurricane:

Puerto Rico’s medical services are in critical condition in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The strongest storm to hit the island in decades has left hospitals flooded, strewn with rubble and dependent on diesel generators to keep the neediest patients alive.

The precarious shape of the island’s medical facilities is adding to the misery and devastation of this U.S. territory, whose 3.4 million residents are American citizens. For some, the only option is to evacuate to the United States for treatment.