By Brooks Hays – UPI
Puerto Ricans pleaded for more federal assistance on Monday as the U.S. territory struggles to recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria, which hit the island last week.
“I’ve seen very little to no police presence, I’ve seen zero military presence,” Monique Casablanca, a property manager living in San Juan, the nation’s capital, told NBC News. “Nights are excruciating, there’s screaming, there’s gunshots. It’s hot, so it’s hard to sleep right now. I haven’t slept in 48 hours.”
Puerto Rico’s governor phoned the Pentagon on Monday to make a formal request for greater humanitarian aid, as well as additional search and rescue assistance.
“We need more resources from the Department of Defense so we can get helicopters and resources,” Governor Ricardo Rossello told Politico.
Millions of Puerto Ricans are facing dire circumstances. Most of the territory remains without power, and spotty cellular service makes communication difficult. Drinkable water is scarce, buildings have been leveled and roads have been swept away.
Casablanca told reporters she feels like the island is being forgotten by the U.S. government.
Rossello called on Congress to pass a relief package that treats Puerto Rico as a state.
“Whatever relief package we have, whatever impact we have, we are U.S. citizens,” Rossello said. “We shouldn’t be the lesser for it.”
Some Democrats have echoed the requests of Puerto Rico’s citizens and leaders.
Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., minority leader in the house, said the White House “must act immediately to make available additional Department of Defense resources for search-and-rescue operations, law enforcement and transportation needs.”
Some have warned the problem isn’t necessarily one of attention or urgency, but of logistics and organization. With a trio of hurricanes having made landfall in a short amount of time, emergency response resources are stretched thin.
“Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are not Texas and Florida,” Gen. Joseph Lengyel, head of the National Guard Bureau, told The Hill. “They’re out here in the middle of the ocean. It’s more complicated to get people here, it’s more complicated to fix the power grids, it’s more complicated to fix a whole lot of other things.”
“This response in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is going to challenge the system,” Lengyel added.