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Puerto Rico Struggling with Shortages of Basic Supplies


Ricardo Gonzalez sits on a gas container with his uncle Miguel Colon as hundreds of people wait in line since early morning hours to buy gasoline three days after the impact of Hurricane Maria in Carolina, Puerto Rico, Sept. 23, 2017.

The storm-damaged U.S. territory of Puerto Rico continues to suffer with shortages of water, food, medicine and other supplies.

Puerto Rico suffered major damage a week ago when Hurricane Maria struck with high winds and heavy rain. It was the strongest storm to hit Puerto Rico in decades.

Maria destroyed the electricity system, as well as homes, businesses, roads and farms across the island. At least 16 people were killed. There still is no exact cost estimate for total storm damage. But Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello says the country’s economy will be mostly halted for at least a month.

Getting supplies to the people who greatly need them has been difficult because the storm also damaged major ports.

National Guardsmen arrive at Barrio Obrero in Santurce to distribute water and food among those affected by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 24, 2017.
National Guardsmen arrive at Barrio Obrero in Santurce to distribute water and food among those affected by the passage of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 24, 2017.

Officials say power remains out across the Caribbean island and about 90 percent of mobile phone transmitters are not working. Many residents have been driving around the island trying to find limited areas where phone service is still working.

There are severe shortages of fuel and money. Many people cannot work or run businesses because fuel to operate power generators is in short supply. Most food stores and restaurants remain closed.

There are long lines at the few banks that are open and most money machines are not operational. Travel for the island’s 3.4 million residents is difficult, with only a few flights departing Puerto Rico each day.

People wait in line to withdraw cash at a bank in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017.
People wait in line to withdraw cash at a bank in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 27, 2017.

The Trump administration announced Thursday it was waiving a federal law that bans foreign-flagged ships from transporting goods between U.S. ports. Puerto Rico’s governor and U.S. lawmakers had urged the move to help get supplies to the island quicker and at less cost.

The Trump administration faced criticism earlier this week for not doing enough to improve the rising humanitarian crisis. On Thursday, Trump tweeted that many supplies and power sources had arrived on the island.

“The electric power grid in Puerto Rico is totally shot. Large numbers of generators are now on Island. Food and water on site,” he wrote.

Puerto Rico already had economic problems before the storm. The island has been in a recession for more than a decade, with a poverty rate of 45 percent and unemployment around 10 percent.

The U.S. territory also has more than $73 billion dollars in debt. Before the storm, the government was negotiating with creditors to restructure the debt, which the previous governor declared unpayable.

Current Governor Rossello said the storm has made things even worse. He told reporters that Puerto Rico will not be able to bring in any income for at least a month.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports from VOA News, the Associated Press and Reuters. Hai Do was the editor.

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Words in This Story

transmitter n. device that sends out radio, television or phone signals

generator – n. machine that produces electricity

waive – v. not require something that is usually required

creditor n. person or organization someone owes money to

income – n. money that is earned from work

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