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Live Updates: Giant Balloons Launched To Bring Cell Phone Service To Devastated Puerto Rico

The monster storm has devastated Puerto Rico and it could be months before basic services are restored. Check back on this post for the latest on the powerful hurricane.

Originally posted on
Updated on

Here's what's happening:

  • At least 48 people have died in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds on Sept. 20. Dominica's police chief reported 27 fatalities.
  • Much of Puerto Rico remains without power, electricity, or communications and it could take more than a decade to rebuild its infrastructure. The governor has asked for more funds from Congress.
  • Authorities have extended a nightly curfew in Puerto Rico "indefinitely."
  • An exasperated mayor of San Juan said, "if anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying."
  • President Trump visited the island, but skipped the US Virgin Islands, and praised the federal government's response.
  • Catch up on BuzzFeed News' earlier coverage of Hurricane Maria here.
  • Here's how you can help the victims of the storm.

Updates

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Giant balloons are now floating in the air high over Puerto Rico in an effort to bring emergency cellular phone and data service to parts of the island hit hardest by Hurricane Maria.

The technology is part of Project Loon, an endeavor by Google parent company Alphabet. Using balloons launched into the stratosphere, the project aims to bring internet service to rural or other unconnected areas.

In a post on Medium, Project Loon's Alastair Westgarth said the company was working with government agencies and AT&T to allow LTE-enabled phones to access the internet and send text messages.

View this video on YouTube

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"This is the first time we have used our new machine learning powered algorithms to keep balloons clustered over Puerto Rico, so we’re still learning how best to do this," Westgarth wrote. "As we get more familiar with the constantly shifting winds in this region, we hope to keep the balloons over areas where connectivity is needed for as long as possible."

Around 69% of Puerto Rico currently has access to telecommunications, either through wireless or traditional means. Only 49% of cell towers are operational, according to officials.

One wrinkle: Project Loon's signal is broadcast over the 900 MHz LTE Band 8, not the typical frequency used by cellphones. Apple has said iPhone users will need to download a small update to their carrier settings before they can access the Project Loon signal.
—Claudia Koerner

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The official death toll from Hurricane Maria climbed to 48 on Saturday, and officials warned that the numbers could climb higher as they review deaths that have occurred since the storm hit three weeks ago.

The three additional deaths were confirmed Saturday, and include at least two people who died as a result of a lack of access to medical services. Among the fatalities was a patient who was unable to get dialysis treatment, and another who died after being unable to get to a hospital because of bad road conditions.

The new numbers come amid growing speculation that the government is undercounting the number of victims of Hurricane Maria. Funeral home directors told BuzzFeed News last week that they have received dozens of bodies not counted in the official death toll. And some news reports have suggested there many be hundreds of unreported deaths related to the storm.

Puerto Rico's secretary of public safety director, Hector Pesquera, said Saturday that officials are still working through hospital records to determine the official tally of the dead.

""We are reviewing each and every case to see if the storm was a direct or indirect cause," Pesquera told reporters after a news conference. "I doubt seriously that we will have any direct at this juncture."

In the meantime, there are concerns that the death toll will continue to rise, as Puerto Ricans face an ongoing struggle to obtain basic necessities like food, water, and power. Nearly 85% of the island were still without power on Saturday, and about 1.2 million people continue to lack access to potable drinking water.

—Grace Wyler

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Puerto Ricans are reportedly being given drinking water from Superfund sites, areas that may be contaminated with hazardous waste, amid an ongoing lack of accessible clean water after Hurricane Maria.

CNN reported Saturday that their reporters had witnessed water authority workers from the Autoridad de Acueductos y Alcantarillados distributing water pumped from a well at the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, a known hazardous location.

"I don't have a choice... This is the only option I have," local Jose Luis Rodriguez, 66, told CNN, as he filled up bottles of water at the Dorado Superfund site.

Superfund is a federally managed program charged with cleaning up sites contaminated by hazardous and toxic pollutants.

On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency officials noted that they'd heard reports of people trying to obtain water from "hazardous waste" sites and warned against the practice in a statement.

"There are reports of residents obtaining, or trying to obtain, drinking water from wells at hazardous waste “Superfund” sites in Puerto Rico," the agency said. "EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health."

Read more here.

—Amber Jamieson

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More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, 91% of the island's residents remain without power and 36% still do not have running drinking water.

Power is the main focus for authorities right now.

"The governor and FEMA’s number one priority is power restoration," reads the latest Department of Defense report.

Power restoration crews are continuing to arrive on the island and the US Army Corp of Engineers is working with FEMA, the Department of Energy and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Agency in order to get power back on.

Of the island's hospitals, 65 of 67 are now open, although 30 of those open are still on generator power.

By Saturday, a combat hospital is expected to be up and fully operational.

Cellular phone service has now been restored to 56% of the island's residents.

Although 63% of the island's residents now have drinking water, rules on boiling water remain in effect in certain areas and only 29 of 51 wastewater facilities are working.

The Defense Logistics Agency is delivering 2.5 million meals per day and expects to continue to do so for another three weeks.

Approximately 13,700 personnel from the DoD are responding to the crisis.

— Amber Jamieson

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After criticism for President Trump's comments on Thursday that federal authorities couldn't stay on Puerto Rico "forever," the president doubled down on on Friday morning, tweeting that Puerto Ricans "know how bad things were before the h[urricanes]."

The wonderful people of Puerto Rico, with their unmatched spirit, know how bad things were before the H's. I will always be with them!

The president also noted "I will always be with them!"

On Thursday, New York Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez spoke in the Housing Committee against Trump's earlier comments, calling his tweets "unpresidential."

"To kick fellow citizens when they are down is shameful," said Velazquez.

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https://www.instagram.com/p/BaKZK5FgvM-/?taken-by=buzzfeednews

She noted how hurtful his tweets on Puerto Rico had been.

"How offended and insulted I am as an American citizen. And I would like to suggest that the president get some history lessons regarding the Puerto Rican relationship with the United States. In 1898 American troops invaded Puerto Rico... Puerto Ricans didn't invite the United States' armed forces. It was invaded. With that invasion, comes responsibility," said Velazquez.

"Why is it that he doesn't put the same tweets when it comes to Texas or Florida?"

— Amber Jamieson

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Trump is "incapable of empathy" for hurricane-ravaged island, San Juan mayor says

Carlos Giusti / AP

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz arrives at San Francisco hospital in Rio Piedras, Puerto Rico, Sept. 30, 2017.

Puerto Rico officials fired back at President Trump on Thursday after he tweeted about removing emergency response workers, saying they can't stay on the island "forever."

Hurricane Maria made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds on Sept. 20, wiping out the US territory's infrastructure and killing at least 45 people. Recovery efforts have been hampered by a lack of electricity and the fact that it's harder to get supplies and equipment to an island.

But Trump on Thursday tweeted that "Electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes" and quoted someone as saying that Puerto Rico's financial crisis financial was "largely of their own making" even before the hurricanes.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz issued a strongly worded rebuke, saying in an open letter that the president had shown time and again that he was "simply incapable" of handling the crisis.

"Your tweets and comments just show desperation and underscore the inadequacy of your government's response to this humanitarian crisis," she wrote. "It is not that you do not get it, it is that you are incapable of empathy and, frankly, simply cannot get the job done."

She noted the hundreds of volunteers workers who had been assisting with efforts on the ground for weeks.

"These men and women, most of them union workers, have literally taken care of our bodies and souls," Yulín Cruz wrote before referring to Trump's recent tour of the island. "They did not come for a photo op or to throw paper towels and insults at us."

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello also tweeted that the US territory was simply asking for equal treatment.

The U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico are requesting the support that any of our fellow citizens would receive across our Nation.

Rep. Nydia Velásquez of New York also blasted Trump's comments on Twitter as "outrageous, indefensible and irresponsible."

"America does not abandon fellow citizens during crises!!" she tweeted.

The House of Representatives, meanwhile, approved a $36.5-billion disaster aid package for Puerto Rico on Thursday that heads to the Senate next week.

—Jason Wells

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Millions of people in Puerto Rico remain without access to electricity, weeks after Hurricane Maria ripped across the island.

As of yesterday, Puerto Rico government statistics showed that nearly 90% of residents were without electricity, an increase from 84% the day before.

In a release from the Department of Defense Thursday, authorities attributed the decrease to "grid instability during restoration."

Hospitals, homes, and other structures have been powered by gas or diesel generators, the New York Times reported. Governor Ricardo A. Rosselló said at a press conference yesterday that he hoped 25% of the island would have power restored by the end of the month.

Meanwhile, US president Trump tweeted Thursday morning that the island's power and infrastructure were a "disaster before hurricanes".

He then went on to state that American first responders and emergency aid organizations, such as FEMA, could not be deployed on the island "forever".

...We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!

His comments come as millions remain without access to clean drinking water, with the death toll now standing at 45.

In the Thursday release, the DoD said 65 of 67 hospitals are open (36 powered by the grid, 29 by generator power) and 43 of 48 dialysis centers are operational. 29 of 51 wastewater treatment plants are operational, powered by generators, and 64% of the population has cellular services available.

Approximately three in four gas stations are now open, officials said, and 64% of the population still lacks access to clean drinking water, with a boiling recommendation in effect.

–Rose Troup Buchanan

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More than one million people in Puerto Rico still don't have access to running water

Mario Tama / Getty Images

Yanira Rios collects spring water for her house in Utuado, Puerto Rico, nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria.

Nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, destroying the island’s fragile infrastructure, 1.4 million people in the Commonwealth still don’t have access to clean drinking water — and no one seems to know how long it will take before the taps start running again.

As of Monday, about 43 percent of Puerto Ricans still lacked access to water services, according to an update on Hurricane Maria recovery efforts provided by the Defense Department.

At first glance, the number appears to be an improvement from last week, when Defense Department reports showed the number of people with water access in Puerto Rico hovering at around 47 percent. But the latest water access data is also virtually unchanged from the number a Sept. 27 report, which stated that 44 percent of Puerto Ricans lacked access to clean water, one week after the hurricane hit.

The Defense Department did not respond to repeated requests for comment on why access to water actually declined in the weeks following the hurricane, and declined to provide an estimate on how long it would take for water service to be restored across Puerto Rico.

Eventually, the Pentagon referred questions to the US Army Corps of Engineers, who directed the request to FEMA. FEMA also declined to comment, and suggested BuzzFeed News contact the Environmental Protection Agency.

“The percentage of people getting public drinking water in Puerto Rico fluctuates due to several factors, mostly power issues,” Tayler Covington, a spokesperson for EPA Region 2, which includes Puerto Rico, said in a statement to BuzzFeed News.

“The EPA is working closely with the Puerto Rico government, including the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA), which provides drinking water to 96% of the people in Puerto Rico, as well as non-PRASA systems, to prioritize which systems or parts of systems to address first and how best to proceed. The EPA has water experts and emergency responders who are focused on assessing both drinking water and wastewater systems.”

The agency did not respond to questions about when water service is expected to be resume. Island-wide, the water system may not be fully operational until power is restored, which officials say could take months.

In the meantime, more than a million people in Puerto Rico have gone weeks without running water. Many have made do, often traveling more than 20 miles to fill buckets and plastic bins at distribution centers or to drink and bathe in streams and rivers, despite the EPA’s warnings that these waterways have been flooded with untreated sewage since the storm.

“We haven’t had water in our houses so we come here every second day,” Maria Victoria Natal Cruz, 16, told BuzzFeed News last week, as she filled up bottles from a hose connected to a spring in the hillside of Arecibo. “Thank god our house wasn’t destroyed, at least. But things are worse than before.”

“The hardest thing has been water,” her mother, Maritza Cruz, added.

Even in areas where service has been restored, officials and environmental safety experts are concerned that the water coming out of the taps might not be drinkable. Even before the hurricane, Puerto Rico’s water system was in dire straits, with virtually every water customer on the island drinking tap water that violated the Safe Water Drinking Act, according to a report from the Natural Resources Defense Council released earlier this year.

“Puerto Rico’s water infrastructure has been in terrible shape for many years,” said Erik Olson, director of the NRDC’s Health Program, who co-authored the report. “Even prior to the hurricane, there were major public health problems, both because of the state of the drinking water system and because the sewage treatment was very much challenged.”

Conditions have rapidly deteriorated since the storm, raising the risk of contamination in water pipes and wiping out the island’s already-limited capacity for sewage treatment. According to Carmen Guerrero, director of the EPA’s Caribbean office, at least 20 wastewater facilities in Puerto Rico are still not operational, creating sewage overflows.

“Some of these overflows are occurring upstream of drinking water intakes,” Guerrero said in a video posted by the agency. “So one of the major impacts that could have is on different diseases that could be found in water.”

It is not clear what the government’s strategy is for rectifying Puerto Rico’s water issues. A request for more than $4 billion in federal funding submitted to Congress by Puerto Rico’s governor Tuesday does not appear to include any explicit appropriations for water infrastructure repairs.

Federal agencies, including the FEMA, the EPA, and the Defense Department, did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for details on plans to restore water access. PRASA, the government-owned water utility that controls most of Puerto Rico’s water system, did not respond to a request for comment.

“There really needs to be an on-scene coordinator to make sure that there is a good contact between PRASA, Puerto Rico, and the federal government,” Olson said. “This needs to happen as soon as possible—it’s surprising that it hasn’t happened yet.”

Given the challenges Puerto Rico’s water system faced before the hurricane, Olson added, “there is clearly a need for a direct command structure on the federal side.”

In the absence of any clear solutions or funding, there is growing fear that the lack of clean water in Puerto Rico could lead to major health public health problems for the island.

“What we’re really worried about is waterborne disease outbreak,” Olson said. “People are drinking out of streams and standing pipes that are coming out of the hills. How are you going to boil your water if there is no power? How are you going to wash vegetables to make sure they aren’t contaminated? There’s been so much untreated sewage that’s been discharged into streams. So there is a real concern that there could be a major outbreak.”

“We’re hopeful that won’t happen,” he added, “but all the elements are there.”

—Grace Wyler

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Puerto Rico's governor on Tuesday said the death toll from Hurricane Maria has risen from 39 to 45.

In a ride with a CBS News reporter, Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said two people had died from Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease usually contracted "by some contact from urine from rodents or animals who have the bacteria."

Five other people have the disease, he said, and health officials are working to get them antibiotics and keep them stable.

While visiting the island last week, President Trump remarked on how low the death toll was compared to a "real catastrophe like Katrina." At that time, the count was 16, according to Rosselló. However, just hours later, Rosselló said the death toll had risen to 34.

The number then went from 43 Tuesday morning to 45 in the afternoon after Rosello said two people in Bayamón died after contracting the bacterial disease.

But the count may still be even higher. BuzzFeed News reported on Sunday that funeral home directors still have dozens more bodies to process.

Talal Ansari

BREAKING: Gov @ricardorossello says death toll has risen to 45, 2 recent deaths are believed to be from Leptospiros… https://t.co/PzWeXijMM7

Posted at

President Trump will not extend a waiver that allowed non-US ships to ferry supplies to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico without penalty.

Trump had waived the Jones Act — which imposes hefty shipping penalties on non-US flagged ships using American ports in the region — on Sept. 28 under pressure from local officials and members of Congress.

But the 10-day waiver, which had helped ease the delivery of food, water, and fuel, to the island, expired Sunday.

"We believe that extending the waiver is unnecessary to support the humanitarian relief efforts on the island," Department of Homeland Security (DHS) spokesman David Lapan said in a statement. "There is an ample supply of Jones Act-qualified vessels to ensure that cargo is able to reach Puerto Rico."

Officials are prepared to review requests on a "case-by-case basis" if a non-Jones Act qualified vessel is required for a "national defense-related need," the DHS added.

"Most humanitarian relief supplies" were being delivered by the US government agencies or Jones Act-qualified vessels, Lapan said.

Meanwhile, Sen. John McCain, who has introduced a bill to repeal the Jones Act, told the Huffington Post that it was "more important that ever" for Congress to pass his bill permanently exempting Puerto Rico from "this archaic and burdensome law."

The Jones Act, he added, would "continue to hinder much-needed efforts to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from Hurricane Maria."

— Tasneem Nashrulla

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Puerto Rico's Governor has asked the president for additional funding to "address the halt in economic activity"

Letter sent to @POTUS last saturday asking for more access to federal funding for relief and recovery efforts in Pu… https://t.co/BvUjzvXJQz

In a letter addressed to President Trump, Puerto Rico's Governor has asked for additional funds to address the island's economic standstill caused by the hurricane, in addition to immediate disaster relief needs.

"We are grateful for the federal emergency assistance that has been provided so far," Governor Ricardo Rossello wrote. "However, absent extraordinary measures to address the halt in economic activity in Puerto Rico, the humanitarian crisis will deepen, and the unmet basic needs of the American citizens of Puerto Rico will become greater."

Rossello said the nearly complete closure of all business on the island, in addition to the unprecedented destruction, would make it "impossible" to meet basic humanitarian needs on the island in coming days and weeks. The letter goes on to outline various federal government departments, like grants and loans within the Health and Human Services and Department of Homeland Security, for example, that could be used to aid in the island's economic standstill.

Rosello has also sent the same letter to congressional leaders Mitch McConnell, Charles Schumer, Paul Ryan and Nancy Pelosi.

"I am confident that in time the people of Puerto Rico will not only recover, but will return stronger than ever," Rossello ended his letter.

President Trump has repeatedly said the recovery efforts are going very well and are "fantastic."

—Talal Ansari

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People are still dying in Puerto Rico — but they have yet to be counted in the government’s official death toll.

Joe Raedle / Getty Images

Edgardo Parrilla, from the First Medical Relief team, gives Vincent Colon a health care checkup in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

JAYUYA, PUERTO RICO — The Puerto Rican government’s official tally of people who died as a result of Hurricane Maria appears to be widely undercounted.

Funeral home directors in two small, largely forgotten towns in the US territory’s interior, Jayuya and Utuado, told BuzzFeed News they have received significantly more corpses as a result of the storm, which made landfall 18 days ago, than the number the government has so far counted in a “certified” tally for those areas. Four funeral homes in San Juan said they have dozens of bodies, but two said they don’t think the deaths are storm-related.

The death toll took on increased symbolism last week when President Trump visited the island during a photo op tour to claim the recovery was “fantastic.” Sitting next to Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, Trump gloated that the death toll was low when compared to Hurricane Katrina 12 years before — "Sixteen people versus in the thousands." Hours later, Rosselló increased the number of dead to 34. It’s now at 36. And there are reports it’s up to 39.

Read more here.

—Nidhi Prakash

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Vice President Mike Pence on Friday toured the destruction in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands as recovery efforts continue in earnest.

In a helicopter, Pence spent an hour flying over St. Croix, St. Thomas, and St. John, which were ravaged by Hurricane Maria.

In Puerto Rico, the Associated Press reported that Pence assured struggling residents that President Trump and the federal government would stick with them until they were fully recovered.

"We will get through this and we will get through this together for everyone," he said.

—Jason Wells

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So far, 36 people are officially listed as dead in Puerto Rico because of Hurricane Maria, and the reasons for those deaths vary widely, from a lack of available oxygen tanks, to trees falling on cars and, and two suicides.

BuzzFeed News obtained a copy of the government's list of the dead, which does not include names, dates, or any identifying information about the people. Instead, it lists the reason for death and the county where it occurred.

The government document also includes data on whether an autopsy was conducted or simply an external exam of the body. The document only included 34 people, BuzzFeed has added another two deaths that were announced early Friday.

Three people died because they were sick during the hurricane and couldn’t receive medical attention. Another four died from cardiac arrest, and three others due to a lack of available oxygen.

Two people died by suicide.

“The people had a panic attack. They couldn’t handle the hurricane, and they committed suicide," said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico's director of public safety, who is in charge of collating the official death tool, earlier this week.

Five people drowned, two of those seeming to die in a flooded river.

Six people were killed in landslides, three of them in the area of Utuado in the mountainous center of the island.

Two people died in the area of the capital San Juan, one because of a lack of medical attention and the second was discovered dead in their car and authorities are awaiting further evaluation.

Three people died while repairing their hurricane damaged homes.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Friday that working out the exact number of deaths, and whether Hurricane Maria directly or indirectly caused them, was important for the island "and frankly the world."

“That is why we’ve decided to make it a concerted… effort to find out what happened in the storm and after the storm,” said Rosselló.

The current list is as follows:

  1. Bayamón - cardiac arrest - external exam
  2. Carguas - lack of oxygen - external exam
  3. Guaynabo - died during the hurricane - external exam pending further evaluation
  4. Toa Baja - drowned in floodwater - autopsy
  5. Bayamón - hit with a panel - autopsy
  6. Cataño - lack of oxygen - external exam
  7. Trujillo Alto - cardiac arrest - external examine
  8. San Juan - sick during the hurricane and couldn’t receive medical attention -external exam
  9. Río Grande - Fell during hurricane preparations - autopsy
  10. Jayuya - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  11. Canóvanas - difficulty breathing - external exam
  12. Carolina - sick during the hurricane and couldn’t receive medical attention - external exam
  13. Arecibo - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  14. Humacao - cardiac arrest external exam
  15. Bayamón - car accident from a fallen tree - autopsy
  16. Aguadilla - drowned in floodwater - autopsy
  17. Aguada - drowned in floodwater - autopsy
  18. Aguada - drowned in floodwater - autopsy
  19. Carolina - lack of oxygen - external exam
  20. Homigueros - fell while repair hurricane shutters - autopsy
  21. Vega Alta - drowned in floodwater - autopsy
  22. Fajardo - hit by a projectile - autopsy
  23. Caguas - fell while repairing hurricane shutters - autopsy
  24. Aguadilla - fell from the roof of their house while repairing hurricane damage - autopsy
  25. Las Marias - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  26. Rincón - suicide - autopsy
  27. Juana Diaz - cardiac arrest - pending further evaluation
  28. Carolina - sick during the hurricane and couldn’t receive medical attention - external exam
  29. Bayamón - hit by a tree that fell on their car - autopsy
  30. Utuado - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  31. Utuado - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  32. Utuado - trapped in a landslide - autopsy
  33. Vega Alta - suicide - autopsy
  34. San Juan - discovered dead in their car - pending further evaluation
  35. Patillas - due to debris that fell on an individual
  36. San Germán: a tree fell on an individual after the event

— Amber Jamieson

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SAN JUAN — Hurricane María blasted through Puerto Rico some 16 days ago, leaving misery and death in its wake and the destruction of homes, schools, and other buildings across the Caribbean.

In San Jaun, another type of facility that holds the fabric of the nation together — footballing fields and stadiums — received heavy damage. The professional team of Puerto Rico, the Puerto Rico FC, will play most if not all of its remaining games outside Puerto Rico after the Juan Ramón Loubriel Stadium's lights were left inoperable.

And local, semi-pro teams have made all efforts to clean their fields and get them ready to bring a critical element of normalcy back: getting their juvenile teams back into practice. Puerto Rico's is one of the biggest clubs at the development level, with over 1,000 children and teens on different campuses around the territory.

Read more here.

—Edwin Jusino

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The number of Puerto Ricans who have died directly or indirectly from Hurricane Maria rose to 36, announced Governor Ricardo Rosselló on Friday.

The two additional deaths came from the areas of Patillas, on the southeast coast, and San Germán, in the southwest.

The death toll has been a source of speculation in Puerto Rico, with rumors of people burying their dead instead of reporting them to officials as there are little to no morgue facilities available. After days of the official death toll being 16, it jumped to 34 on Tuesday.

Rosselló explained on Friday that working out the death toll and how the deaths happened is a priority for the government.

"I do expect to have a clear picture of how many deaths included directly and indirectly due to the storm," he said during his daily press conference, noting that it was important for Puerto Rico "and frankly, the world" to have exact information about the deaths.

"That is why we’ve decided to make it a concerted... effort to find out what happened in the storm and after the storm," said Rosselló.

He noted that the government had been investigating rumors of deaths and "many of them turned out to be completely false."

The government is also working with hospitals and the Instituto de Ciencias Forenses (the institute of forensic sciences) to clarify if deaths are related to Maria, either directly or indirectly, said Rosselló.

The governor also noted that 55% of Puerto Ricans now have access to running water, and 10% have access to power.

— Amber Jamieson

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HOYOS PLANES, PUERTO RICO — For nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria swept through Puerto Rico, Jose — he’s known locally as Pito — was trapped on the mountain road where he and a dozen other families live, outside a town southwest of San Juan. On Tuesday, he was able to leave and reach the outside world for the first time since Sept. 20 — but only on foot.

“There’s no light or water or anything,” he said about his town. “We’re missing these things but the most important thing is that we can leave and go get things now.”

He’s been making the hour-and-a-half journey on foot from Hoyos Planes, the community where he lives, to the nearby town of Jayuya every day because the roads are not passable by car. In one precarious section of the hilly path out, half of the road has collapsed into the Caonillas River below. The pathways outside their homes were also blocked by debris, he told BuzzFeed News, until he and his neighbors started cutting the trees, mud, and rocks to clear the way.

Read more here.

—Nidhi Prakash

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Fresh from touring the devastation in Puerto Rico, President Trump on Tuesday said "we're going to have to wipe out" the island's crippling debt in order for the US territory to rebuild after Hurricane Maria.

"You know they owe a lot of money to your friends at Wall Street and we're going to have to wipe that out," Trump told Fox News' Geraldo Rivera. "You can wave goodbye to that."

It appeared to be a major change for a president who in recent days has repeatedly referred to Puerto Rico's debt crisis in less than hopeful terms.

Read more here.

—Salvador Hernandez

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The hurricane-related death toll in Puerto Rico jumped from 16 to 34 on Tuesday, not long after President Trump left the island after a daylong tour of the devastation.

Just hours earlier, Trump had pointed to the previous number of 16 deaths to say the damage in Puerto Rico wasn't a "real catastrophe" like that in New Orleans in 2005 after Hurricane Katrina.

"What is your death count?" Trump asked Rosselló early Tuesday.

"Sixteen, cerified," Rosselló replied.

"Sixteen people versus in the thousands," Trump said, comparing the number of deaths related to the two storms.

But later in the evening, Rosselló said the number of deaths connected to Maria had more than doubled, noting that medical examiners and hospitals had to first rule out other deaths that occurred during the storm, such as those attributed to suicide and heart attacks.

He said the higher number had been known to authorities, but not yet "certified."

Speaking to reporters onboard Air Force One, Trump said his trip to Puerto Rico "was really nice, it was a great visit."

While acknowledging more help was needed at the local level, including truck drivers and police officer, Trump said he heard no criticisms Tuesday despite those levied earlier in the week by local officials.

"They were so thankful for what we have done," Trump said. "I think it has been a great day. We only heard thankyous from the people of Puerto Rico. They are great people and it was really something that I enjoyed very much."

Asked whether Trump appeared to be downplaying the damage caused by the storm, Rosselló said he was judging Trump on his actions, and pointed to the emergency declaration as an example that he was addressing the needs of Puerto Rico.

"He is committed to working with us, through the long haul, not just in the emergency but to rebuild Puerto Rico and, of course, I will be making sure that happens," Rosselló said.

The governor also defended Trump's comments made during the tour, telling reporters he was confident the president now understood the level of damage caused by the storm.

"It is my belief that he understands the gravity of this situation," Rosselló said. "I can also say that several of the military men and women that he's spoken to pointed out to this being one of the most devastating events, not just in the history of Puerto Rico, but in the history of the United States. I think he has a very clear vantage point of how devastating this is."

—Salvador Hernandez

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San Juan mayor hopes Trump will stop "spouting out" after witnessing devastation first hand

San Juan mayor: I hope Trump stops "spouting out" comments that hurt Puerto Rico's people https://t.co/9IBbtAWxoA https://t.co/W009oqorHl

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Tuesday said she had productive meetings with Trump’s administration and hoped the president would turn away from “spouting out” hurtful comments after witnessing the devastation first hand.

Trump briefly met Cruz during his tour of the hurricane ravaged island on Tuesday after trading verbal barbs in recent days.

But on Twitter Tuesday, Cruz said her meeting with White House officials had been productive.

Meeting with WH staff productive. They REALLY understood the disconnect between how things are supposed to happen and how they really happen

“They REALLY understood the disconnect between how things are supposed to happen and how they really happen,” she added.

Trump spoke glowingly of the federal response to the US territory, which has been largely without power since Hurricane Maria hit, despite at times desperate pleas for more help from Puerto Rican officials.

Cruz tweeted Tuesday that she hoped the “newly open” channels of communication with the White House would help save lives.

And in an interview with CNN, she hoped Trump’s tour of the destruction and obstacles still facing the island would change his approach to addressing the disaster.

"I would hope that the president of the United States stops spouting out comments that really hurt the people of Puerto Rico because, rather than commander-in-chief, he sort of becomes mis-communicator in chief,” she said.

Upon leaving Puerto Rico on Air Force One, Trump told reporters onboard that "we only heard thank-yous" during his tour, and that while local communities still needed help, government agencies "really have responded very well."

—Jason Wells

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President Trump and first lady Melania Trump visited hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico on Tuesday, and, boy, there were some weird, awkward moments during the visit.

From tossing paper towels into a crowd, to appearing to diminish the catastrophic damage in Puerto Rico caused by Hurricane Maria — saying it wasn't a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina — here's a rundown.

—Tasneem Nashrulla

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President Trump and his wife, Melania, walked the streets of Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, on Tuesday, talking to locals affected by Hurricane Irma.

Trump passed hundreds of downed trees on the way to the staged event, including a sign that stated, "You are a bad hombre."

A resident who had climbed a fence to get a better look at the president as he passed by was asked by reporters if he was happy to be there.

"Yes, of course, it's the first time I have the president so close to me," he said in Spanish.

Trump spoke about the damage to buildings, telling one resident "the concrete holds up but the wood doesn't." He asked another if they feared the second floor would collapse.

"Thank you for being here, it's so good to see you," the man said in Spanish.

A family told Trump they had been without electricity since Hurricane Irma, the earlier storm to hit the island, to which the president replied, "You always come back," referring to Puerto Rico.

When asked by reporters of his thoughts of what he was seeing, Trump replied: "Well, what I see is an incredible job done by FEMA, the Air Force, and the Navy."

The crowd at the Calvary Chapel, meanwhile, cheered and held signs that stated "Proud Americans," "Let's Make Puerto Rico Great Again," and "God bless You Mr. President."

"There's a lot of love in this room, a lot of love," Trump said.

Trump also handed out bags of rice and threw paper towels into the crowd.

.@realDonaldTrump entrega suministros durante su visita a la isla. #TrumpPuertoRico #huracánMaría

Trump treating Puerto Rico like it's halftime of the basketball game and we're about to get the t-shirt cannon out

— Amber Jamieson

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A spokesman for the governor of the US Virgin Islands said he would have preferred if Trump actually visited the territory

President Trump is visiting Puerto Rico today, but won't actually land on the US Virgin Islands, according to his schedule.

The islands were smashed by two hurricanes, Irma then Maria, in a two week span.

Sam Topp, the spokesman for Gov. Kenneth Mapp, told BuzzFeed News that Trump not coming to the islands was a major reversal from the planabout two weeks ago, and was the administration's decision.

Mapp wanted to meet with Trump, and it would make sense to do so in the affected area, Topp said. Still, Mapp's priority is to have the president's ear and tell him what is needed.

Read more here.

—Brianna Sacks

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On Tuesday Trump shook the hand of the San Juan mayor he publicly insulted, after declaring on Twitter on Saturday that she had "poor leadership."

According to the pool report, the pair "exchanged pleasantries," and Trump asked Carmen Yulín Cruz how she was.

They met at the Luis Muñiz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, where the president was given a briefing on the hurricane and spoke with local authorities.

NBC News Chief Foreign Affairs Correspondent Andrea Mitchell tweeted that Cruz told the president during their meeting that "it's not about politics," in reference to her earlier criticisms.

.@realDonaldTrump shook hands w/ San Juan Mayor who told him "it's not about politics" Trump didn't answer then pointedly ignored her

On Friday, Cruz called a press conference and announced that bureaucracy was delaying the government's response to the hurricane and people were "dying", which Trump seemed to take as a personal attack.

On Saturday, she clarified to BuzzFeed News that her comments "weren’t directed at anyone. They were the reality of what’s happening in San Juan and Puerto Rico."

Despite Mitchell's tweet saying that Trump didn't answer, and ignored Cruz after she said "it's not about politics", the pool press report says that Trump replied "thank you."

Shortly afterwards, Trump addressed the crowd and thanked Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rosselló.

"Right from the beginning this governor did not play politics," said Trump, to applause.

— Amber Jamieson

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President Trump seemed to diminish the disaster happening on Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria while visiting the devastated island on Tuesday, saying it wasn't a "real catastrophe" like Hurricane Katrina.

"Every death is a horror, but if you look at a real catastrophe like Katrina and you look at the tremendous hundreds and hundreds of people that died," Trump went on.

"What is your death count?" Trump asked.

"16," someone responded.

"16 people certified," Trump said. "16 people versus in the thousands," he said, comparing it to Katrina.

"You can be very proud of all of your people and all of our people working together. 16 versus literally thousands of people. You can be very proud. Everyone around this table."

"I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you are throwing our budget a little out of whack," President Trump also said at a press conference during his trip to the badly damaged island. The comment was said as the president thanked multiple people and agencies, including the Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard, including extensive praise he gave to people within his own administration.

Read more about Trump's press conference in Puerto Rico here.

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President Trump is visiting San Juan, Puerto Rico, today to meet with victims of Hurricane Maria who are still without drinking water and power.

But about 100 miles away, people on the US Virgin Islands — who are US citizens, like people in Puerto Rico — are also still struggling to get basic necessities after both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria slammed into the islands in a two-week period. Trump's schedule shows he will not visit the island.

Read more about how residents of the US Virgin Islands feel about the president's decision not to visit the islands, here.

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The Puerto Rican power authority expects only 15% of the island's power will be restored within the next two weeks, according to the latest Hurricane Maria update from the US Department of Defense (DoD).

Much of the island remains without power, with only an additional 0.4% of customers — including those in the San Juan financial district — having regained power as of Tuesday.

Of the island's hospitals, 15 are now back on the power grid, 51 are being run by generator, and one is closed.

From today, 80 helicopters are in use, up from 57.

The United States Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), a division of the Defense Department, yesterday conducted 11 strategic lift missions. They transported "commodities, helicopters, sustainment enablers, sandbags, and telecommunications equipment," according to the DoD report.

Part of the USTRANSCOM mission includes AT&T mobile cellular telecommunications equipment, to increase cell service.

An additional 11 missions are planned for today, including the arrival of extra helicopters.

President Trump will meet with the FEMA head Brock Long, Lt. Gen Jeffrey Buchanan (the military's main contact with the DoD) and Brigadier General Jose Reyes (from the National Guard, and the Dual Status Commander) in San Juan. Rear Admiral Jeffrey Hughes, who is leading the Navy's response in Puerto Rico, will host the president on board USS Kearsarge.

Trump spoke before he left for Puerto Rico about the lack of truck drivers available, and 125 contract drivers for 114 fuel trucks have just arrived on Puerto Rico. Five people from the Defense Logistics Agency's rapid deployment team will be deployed on Wednesday "to support logistics command and control."

— Amber Jamieson

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As President Trump boarded Air Force One to Puerto Rico on Tuesday morning, he continued to criticize locals in Puerto Rico for their response after Hurricane Maria.

“On a local level, they have to give us more help. But I will tell you, the first responders, the military, FEMA, they have done an incredible job in Puerto Rico," said Trump.

He blamed distribution issues on truck drivers. "But now the roads are cleared, communications is starting to come back. We need their truck drivers to start driving trucks," said Trump.

The truck driver statement is likely to in reference to comments by the Puerto Rican Governor a week ago that workers including truck drivers hadn't shown up to work because they were busy caring for their own families and communities and communication didn't exist to contact them.

Trump toned down his criticisms of San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, who he accused of "poor leadership" in a tweetstorm on Saturday, instead declaring the mayor now supports the federal government's response.

“Well, I think she’s come back a long way. I think it’s now acknowledged what a great job we’ve done, and people are looking at that. And whether it’s her or anybody else, they’re all starting to say it," said Trump on Tuesday.

The mayor hasn't said the federal government is doing a great job. On Saturday, Cruz told BuzzFeed News that her comments about people "dying" because of government bureaucracy "weren't directed at anyone," despite Trump turning to personal attacks on her.

"But I think people are just looking for excuses to throw blame around rather than accepting that things haven’t been working the way they should have, making them work, and then just move on," Cruz told BuzzFeed News.

The mayor will meet and attend a hurricane briefing with the president on Tuesday.

— Amber Jamieson

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As Trump travels to hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico, disaster relief efforts remain devastatingly slow

Hector Retamal / AFP / Getty Images

People take a bath in a canal in Toa Alta, Puerto Rico, on October 1, 2017,

President Donald Trump is set to arrive in Puerto Rico Tuesday, shining a national spotlight on his administration's efforts to provide relief to the US territory, where many still lack access to food, power, and water.

The visit gives Trump an opportunity to show solidarity with US territories ravaged by Hurricane Maria, and present a united front with local officials amid mounting criticism of the federal government's response to the crisis.

After a weekend of contentious tweets regarding Puerto Rico, Trump took pains Monday to praise the relief efforts there, telling reporters at the White House that it is "amazing what’s been done in very short period of time.”

But the rhetoric ignores just how slowly the government has responded to the mounting disaster. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit, more than 90 of Puerto Rico is still without power, including all but 14 of the island's hospitals. The rest are running low on fuel for generators, relying on fuel rotation system put in place by the government to keep medical facilities at least marginally operational.

Communication and transportation remains difficult across much of the territory, making it difficult for residents in many places to access food and other basic necessities. As of Monday afternoon, only 65 percent of grocery stores, and 69 percent of gas stations, were open on the main island.

Moreover, when it comes to clean drinking water, the situation actually seems to have gotten worse. A full 55 percent of people lacked access to potable water Sunday, up from about 42 percent last week, according to numbers provided by the Pentagon.

The government has not provided any explanation for the decline in drinking water access; FEMA, the Defense Department, and the EPA, did not respond to multiple requests for comment for BuzzFeed News.

The conditions have raised fears that the extent of the storm's damage — and its death toll — may be much higher than official reports suggest. As of Monday, the death count in Puerto Rico remained at 16, despite reports that the storm may have caused dozens of additional fatalities.

There are signs that the government's response is improving. According to FEMA, there are now more than 12,000 federal workers providing relief efforts to Puerto Rico, working to restore power, clear roads, and deliver supplies. On Monday, the Department of Health and Human Services announced a plan to broaden support for the territory's hospitals, including by dispatch its own medical teams to set up temporary sites at damaged medical facilities.

Still, even federal officials admit that the relief efforts have not been satisfactory.

"It's not nearly as fast as any of us want," John Rabin, FEMA's acting regional administrator, conceded Monday.

—Grace Wyler

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ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands — Hip-hop music blasts from the packed kitchen as about a dozen teens and adult volunteers spoon hot beans, stir quinoa, and wrap sandwiches to load into tinfoil containers. In the next room, others pour over a few crinkled sheets of paper with numbers, names, and places, marking the number of people they would be feeding that day.

The total, as it has been for the past few weeks, was about 1,100.

Outside of My Brother’s Workshop on St. Thomas, more than 100 people stood in a growing line wrapping around the corner waiting for the metal gate to open. For nearly a month, the group has been prepping and doling out about 1,000 meals a day for people struggling on the devastated island of St. Thomas in the wake of hurricanes Irma and Maria. The nonprofit was born with a mission to teach life and business skills to at-risk youth on the islands.

“Those kids are now cooking for storm victims and repairing their homes,’ program director Jenny Hawkes said. “Food is coming from everywhere and we’re just teaching them to put themselves into it.”

Already stretched thin by a string of unprecedented hurricanes, federal and local government agencies are trying, but struggling, to immediately meet the plethora of needs for residents of the US Virgin Islands, especially those living in remote areas.

Read more here.

—Brianna Sacks

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Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello gave updates on the island's recovery efforts Monday morning.

The US Department of Defense issued a press release from the governor's press conference with updates on Puerto Rico's infrastructure:

  • All 10 of the island's airports have opened
  • 759 of 1,120 gas stations are now open, and "waiting times for gas and diesel fuel have dropped drastically"
  • 37% of Puerto Ricans have cell phone service — 270 of the island's 1,700 cellular antennas are now operational
  • Assessments of the damage to the island's hospitals is complete, according to the governor, with 10 hospitals reattached to the electrical grid and the remainder operating via generators

Despite the updates, the DoD wrote, "Hurricane Maria's devastation was so extreme and widespread that the island remains in emergency mode remains in emergency mode."

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SAN JUAN — As Puerto Ricans continue to struggle with the devastating fallout from Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump spent much of the weekend tweeting about the crisis from his golf club in New Jersey, criticizing the mayor of San Juan, implying Puerto Ricans were looking for handouts, and warning people in the US territory: "Do not believe the #FakeNews!"

"We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates," Trump tweeted on Sunday, when he spent a large portion of the day at a golf tournament.

But many Puerto Ricans told BuzzFeed News that Trump's tweets were irrelevant — most couldn't see them or watch cable news because only 5% of the island has power, and people are busy rebuilding the shattered island anyway.

As of Sunday morning, just 11% of the territory had cell phone service, and 95% of energy customers were still without electricity.

"My reception is going on and off so I barely can read news," said Alexander Rizik, a massage therapist who identified himself as politically neutral. "What fake news are you talking about?”

Noting there are problems with local politicians as well, Rizik added that that Trump's tweet claiming that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them" was insulting.

Read more here.

—Nidhi Prakash

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Trump will bring several cabinet members with him on his Tuesday trip to Puerto Rico

A source working on planning for Trump's Puerto Rico trip told BuzzFeed News that eight members of cabinet will join him to show its significance.

The message, from Trump allies, is that he has done everything he can in the short term — but the trip will be way for him to see what he still needs to do in the long term.

Two sources involved with the planning told BuzzFeed News they expect Trump to meet community members and possibly hand out food and supplies, as he did in Houston.

Those sources think Trump will survey Puerto Rico damage via helicopter, though logistics may change because of security.

—Adrian Carrasquillo

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More than half of Puerto Rico lacks access to drinking water as repairs continue and flash flood watches remain in effect

More than half of Puerto Rico's 3.4 million people lacked access to drinking water Sunday as officials scrambled to make repairs to an array infrastructure that was damaged by Hurricane Maria.

According to a FEMA report, 55% of the island's population did not have access to potable water. The report also stated that only nine of Puerto Rico's 52 wastewater treatment plants were operating Sunday.

The report goes on to paint a still-harrowing picture of life in the US territory: fewer than half of the grocery and big box stores were open Sunday; more than 10,000 people were still spread out among 146 shelters; a fifth of the island's power lines needed replacing; and a mere 11.3% of the island had cell phone service.

The report also warned of additional rain in the forecast, adding that the Guajataca Dam spillway continued to erode and a flash flood watch was in effect.

A flash flood watch was also in effect Sunday in the US Virgin Islands, where 555 people remained in seven different shelters, according to the report. On St. Thomas and St. Croix.

— Jim Dalrymple II

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Almost every day, Adrian Umet makes the 15-minute drive from his home in Barrio Obrero, a working-class neighborhood that’s been pitch-black at night since Hurricane Maria, to one of San Juan’s most luxurious hotels, where he works as a bellhop. There, a 24-hour generator is now powering not only the Wi-Fi and air conditioning but also multiple restaurants and bars that have sprung back to life in recent days.

Umet, 29, works at the hotel while he’s finishing his degree in digital communications at the Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan. And while the house he lived in with his mother before Hurricane Maria made landfall lies in shambles and Puerto Rico continues to struggle (with 95% of people still lacking electricity and 55% without drinking water, according to figures released by the government on Saturday), he said he’s upbeat about his future.

“I just stay positive,” he told BuzzFeed News on his longer-than-usual drive to work on Saturday, laughing about how people in San Juan are driving more carefully now that there aren’t many functioning traffic lights in the city. “I don’t think about stuff, compare stuff, I just try to be a better person. Everything’s going to come to you. It’s like karma.”

Read more here.

Nidhi Prakash

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Despite facing Twitter attacks from President Trump over the weekend, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said she'd meet with him if asked.

"Well, if he asks to meet with me, of course I would meet with him,," Yulin said on ABC News' "This Week."

Yulin said she has been "quite complimentary" of government agencies, and their efforts towards disaster relief, agencies such as Health and Human Services and FEMA. "Their heart is in the right place, but we have to cut the red tape. That's the one message," Yulin said.

Earlier in the interview, when asked about her reaction to the president's tweets, Yulin said her "only one goal" was "saving lives."

"And all I did last week, or even this week, was ask for help. It has to happen in a sustained manner. It has to happen quickly," Yulin said.

— Talal Ansari

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Trump defends action in Puerto Rico, attacks fake news media, and "politically motivated ingrates" in series of tweets

We have done a great job with the almost impossible situation in Puerto Rico. Outside of the Fake News or politically motivated ingrates,...

...people are now starting to recognize the amazing work that has been done by FEMA and our great Military. All buildings now inspected.....

...for safety. Thank you to the Governor of P.R. and to all of those who are working so closely with our First Responders. Fantastic job!

The US president defended the government's actions in a series of tweets Sunday morning, following from sustained criticism that his administration had failed to adequately help those affected by Hurricane Maria.

Trump also thanked the Puerto Rican Governor, Ricardo Rosselló, who told CNN Saturday in San Juan the "administration has answered and has complied with our petitions in an expedited manner."

–Rose Troup Buchanan

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Here's what's really happening in Puerto Rico, despite what Trump has claimed

Ricardo Arduengo / AFP / Getty Images

Miguel Angel Roca uses a wheelbarrow to carry damaged belongings outside his home in Arecibo, Puerto Rico on Saturday.

SAN JUAN — When Henry Jackson, the deputy commissioner for New York City's Office of Emergency Management, arrived in San Juan last Saturday to help the mayor's response to her devastated city, he realized pretty quickly there was something missing from their headquarters: FEMA workers.

"To get communication is the most important thing in an emergency, and nobody’s phones are working," Jackson told BuzzFeed News. "We like putting people in a room," he said diplomatically about the Federal Emergency Management Agency, "so we can get to them and get answers and move things."

President Trump on Friday seemed to become aware that his administration was botching the aid to Puerto Rico, after cable news showed people in dire conditions and San Juan's mayor, Carmen Yulin Cruz, captured headlines by ripping the administration's handling of the crisis and begging for help.

On Saturday, Trump responded by attacking Cruz on Twitter and implying Puerto Ricans were looking for handouts, told the island residents to ignore "fake news" on cable TV — only 5% of the nation currently has power — and repeatedly call the administration's response "great" and "unprecedented" and getting "great marks."

But for people on the ground, Trump's reality exists only in his mind.

Read more about the situation on the ground in Puerto Rico here.

—Nidhi Prakash

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The governor of the US Virgin Islands wants cruise ships back in two weeks — but hundreds are still homeless

Brianna Sacks/BuzzFeed News

People wait for food to be distributed on St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.

ST. THOMAS, US Virgin Islands—Taking shelter from spurts of rain that followed Hurricane Maria, groups of people toiled on concrete stoops of the brightly colored Pearson Gardens, one of St. Thomas’ public housing developments, which sits directly across the street from a luxury shopping center.

As a single mother of five readied for her overnight job at the local K-Mart in a one-bedroom apartment that is still without power about a month after the first massive storm hit, names like Gucci and Louis Vuitton hung in the backdrop, on shuttered buildings once filled with tourists spilling off cruise ships from the dock nearby.

The stark contrast highlights a difficult, and divisive, choice facing the cash-strapped US Virgin Islands: When the territory should reopen its battered doors to tourists, amid recovery efforts that are expected to take years.

The US Virgin Islands, four once-lush, distinct masses strung in a row across the Caribbean Ocean, survive on tourism. But now, after two Category Five hurricanes sliced through the territory's roads, homes, businesses, and beaches in as many weeks, the idea that the islands could soon host thousands of visitors seems laughable to many residents.

Read more here.

—Brianna Sacks

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Mayor of San Juan says her comments criticizing the federal response "weren't directed at anyone, they were the reality of what's happening in San Juan and Puerto Rico."

At the San Juan/NYC joint center of command - where supplies are ready to send out and where San Juan Mayor Carmen… https://t.co/EzmuThFdkL

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico—After spending most of Saturday bearing the brunt of Twitter attacks from President Donald Trump, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz downplayed the idea that her recent comments criticizing the federal response to Hurricane Maria were a direct criticism of the administration.

In an interview with BuzzFeed News at the joint command center here Saturday, Yulín Cruz said that her recent remarks "weren't directed at anyone, they were the reality of what's happening in San Juan and Puerto Rico."

The comments came amid an escalating Twitter feud between Yulín Cruz and the president, which began Friday afternoon, when the mayor held a press conference to urge the federal government to step up up its disaster relief efforts in Puerto Rico.

Speaking to BuzzFeed News in the San Juan Coliseum, where Puerto Rico's largest city is directing its relief efforts—and where the mayor herself has been staying—Yulín Cruz said that FEMA aid began arriving at the center Friday.

Carmen Yulin Cruz with the supplies San Juan has received from Goya, FEMA, and private donors.

In the meantime, Trump doubled down on his defense of the administration's relief efforts in another tweet Saturday night, once again blaming the news media for not giving federal teams credit for providing assistance to Puerto Rico.

Because of #FakeNews my people are not getting the credit they deserve for doing a great job. As seen here, they ar… https://t.co/11L5rePtWp

Read more about Trump's attacks on San Juan's mayor here.

—Nidhi Prakash and Grace Wyler

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Officials don't expect cholera cases in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands as a result of Hurricane Maria

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention do not expect an outbreak of cholera in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, despite rumors spreading online that the first cases have already been detected.

In a series of tweets Saturday, the CDC announced that it did not expect to see cases of the disease in the two US territories, adding that cholera is rare on American soil. The agency also said that there "was no evidence of cholera in Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands before Hurricane Maria."

CDC does not anticipate cholera cases in Puerto Rico or the U.S. Virgin Islands b/c of #Maria. #MariaPR https://t.co/dzSnsaj50u

The CDC didn't immediately respond Saturday to BuzzFeed News' inquires about cholera and any potential cases in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

However, the tweets came amid growing rumors about reports of cholera in Puerto Rico. The rumors have been circulating for days, and by the weekend several well-known journalists, including Kurt Eichenwald and Paul Krugman, had claimed on Twitter that there were known cases, though neither cited specific sources.

Cholera. In a US territory. Among US citizens. In the 21st century. Heckuva job, Trumpie.

In a report published Saturday, the Daily Beast cited Victor Ramos, the president of the College of Physicians and Surgeons of Puerto Rico, as saying he anticipates an outbreak of cholera and other diseases in the territory, though Ramos did not actually say that any cases had been reported.

— Jim Dalrymple II

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Amid outrage at his handling of disaster relief in Puerto Rico and his insults towards the mayor of San Juan, Donald Trump told Puerto Ricans to "not believe the Fake News".

To the people of Puerto Rico: Do not believe the #FakeNews! #PRStrong🇵🇷

Trump tweeted his thanks to Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló and Congresswoman Jennifer Gonzalez-Colon of Puerto Rico, before going on to say that "#FakeNews critics are working overtime."

@ricardorossello ......#FakeNews critics are working overtime, but we're getting great marks from the people that truly matter! #PRStrong🇵🇷

He continued to dismiss criticisms of the federal government's response by Carmen Yuliín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan.

Results of recovery efforts will speak much louder than complaints by San Juan Mayor. Doing everything we can to help great people of PR!

The president has been criticized for much of Saturday for insulting the mayor of San Juan while spending the weekend away at his New Jersey golf club.

Democrats jumped in, with Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut tweeting: "Don't ever let this become normalized. Today our President will sit in his opulent golf resort attacking hurricane first responders."

Tim Kaine, former Democratic vice presidential nominee and the senator from Virginia, noted that those affected are US citizens. He tweeted: People in USVI & PR are Americans—like Texans & Floridians. The disparities between responses to Harvey/Irma & Maria raise serious concerns."

"The definition of "poor leadership" is sitting at your golf club while millions of US citizens beg for your help, @realDonaldTrump," weighed in Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren.

New Jersey Senator Bob Menendez, who has just returned from a visit to Puerto Rico to survey the hurricane damage, was even more damning in his criticisms.

'"Trump's Katrina' comparison no longer accurate. This is worse. At least Bush never blamed & attacked those suffering," he tweeted, along with photos of the destruction.

Now returning from PR, "Trump's Katrina" comparison no longer accurate. This is worse. At least Bush never blamed &… https://t.co/4j71Ph1aXz

Another Democrat compared Trump saying that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them" to racist clichés.

"I was hurt when I heard the president said this and I'm hurt because it causes me to harken back to a time when persons would say that African-Americans were lazy and just wanted handouts," said Texas Congressman Al Green.

Texas Rep. Al Green on Trump's tweets: "It causes me to harken back to a time when persons would say that African-A… https://t.co/AxhVrEMLQu

A press release from the Department of Defense Saturday afternoon said the DoD was "accelerating" relief operations and the deployment of staff and resources to cope with the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Ninety-five percent of Puerto Rico is without power, and only 45% have access to fresh drinking water. Of the island's hospitals, 59 are either partially or fully operational. The island has 1,100 gas stations, and 851 of them are open and selling gas.

— Amber Jamieson

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The retired military official who lead the response to Hurricane Katrina, Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré, blasted President Trump for his attacks on the mayor of San Juan.

"The mayor's living on a cot, and I hope the president has a good day at golf," said Honoré, who is in Puerto Rico, on CNN on Saturday.

Just two days ago, Honoré criticized Trump's response to Puerto Rico's recovery as evidence the president didn't care about poor people or people of color.

"The president has shown again he don't give a damn about poor people, he don't give a damn about people of color," said Honoré.

Ret. Lt. Gen. Honoré on Trump tweets: “The mayor’s living on a cot and I hope the President has a good day at golf.… https://t.co/w5Vbmp151E

In interviews with CNN on Saturday, Honoré said that bureaucracy and a lack of supplies were delaying Puerto Rico's rebuild, adding that the two most needed things were gas and communications.

He called on AT&T and Verizon to come and fix the island's communications system in rural areas.

"There's no reason why that system isn't better than it is in the outlying areas," said Honoré.

He suggested a free tank of gas for all Puerto Ricans, to help kickstart the economy, and called on Walgreens to reopen their stores.

"Walgreens came in here and they dominate the pharmaceutical industry. Most of the stores are not open. They need to get generators and get those stores open. Get it open, people got to go to work which means we've got to get gas," he said.

At least 150 helicopters are needed for distribution of food and supplies to outlying areas, according to Honoré.

The retired general also noted that there were not enough troops and workers available.

"We need more boots on the ground," he said.

The retired general said there's a large National Guard contingent in Puerto Rico but many of them are busy caring for families after the hurricane. If families were sent to military bases on the mainland, Honoré said, then National Guard members could get to work rebuilding.

"They're incumbered by the same thing the first responders are: trying to work and trying to take care of their families," said Honoré.

Bureaucracy is slowing down the availability of workers, according to Honoré, who said mayors should be able to just hire workers, note down their hours, and pay them later.

"A lot of things could start happening but you can't do it following the existing rules of commerce and government in the United States," said Honoré.

— Amber Jamieson

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SAN JUAN — More than a week after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico and caused unprecedented destruction, Puerto Ricans who were in other parts of the US for the storm and unable to get home are beginning to trickle back in.

Nelson Cruz-Bianchi, a Sergeant First-Class in the US Army, was among those on a flight early Friday morning. Flying into San Juan and seeing the flattened trees and brown, desolate earth surrounding the city, his main concern was getting out to Jayuya municipality, in the center of the island, to find his dad.

"None of us in my family have heard from my dad since the day before the storm hit," he told BuzzFeed News. "We kind of all think he’s okay but we want to know for sure."

Read more here.

—Nidhi Prakash

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President Trump's tweets attacking the mayor of San Juan on Saturday were all too much for Lin-Manuel Miranda, the creator of the musical Hamilton and star of the upcoming Mary Poppins sequel.

In a series of tweets, he told the president that Trump is "going straight to hell," and defended San Juan Mayor Yulín Cruz.

Miranda, who supported Hillary Clinton during the election, has been one of the most high-profile Puerto Ricans raising awareness and money in the aftermath of Hurricane Marisa.

Read more here.

—Amber Jamieson

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Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló called for the mayor of San Juan to work with him as part of the hurricane rebuilding effort, asking for them to put away "differences based on politics."

Rosselló told reporters Saturday he hadn't seen the president's latest tweets, but tried to remain neutral on the feud between President Trump and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

"I've spoken to the president. I don't feel that that message was sent in general," said the governor on Saturday during a press conference, referring to the president's tweets criticizing Yulín Cruz.

"I do reiterate that the only way for this to work is for us to have collaboration and let me stress this, I am committed to collaborating with everybody. This is a point where we can't look at small differences. We can't establish, you know, differences based on politics," said Rosselló.

The governor also said there had been some progress on the island, particularly with extra fuel being made available and hospitals being made a priority.

— Amber Jamieson

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San Juan mayor on Trump attack: "I am not going to be distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues"

San Juan Mayor tells @JoyAnnReid: "This isn't about me. This isn't about anyone. This is about lives that are being… https://t.co/Xl4nCLpoIp

After President Donald Trump attacked her handling of the disaster response to Hurricane Maria, San Juan's mayor said she would not be "distracted by small comments, by politics, by petty issues."

"I will continue to do whatever I have to do, say whatever I have to say, compliment the people I need to compliment, and call out the people I need to call out," said Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz.

"This isn't about me. This isn't about anyone. This is about lives that are being lost if things do not get done properly real quickly," she said.

The mayor noted Army Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, the three-star general leading response efforts, had said more troops and supplies were needed.

President Trump is due to visit the island on Tuesday, and Mayor Yulín Cruz urged him to do more than simply survey the damage from a helicopter.

"Go out into the towns where people are drinking out of creeks, or the towns where all the cows and the dead people are together, or those towns where there's no medicine, and hear from the people of Puerto Rico," she said.

—David Mack

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After President Donald Trump used Twitter on Saturday to attack the mayor of San Juan for criticizing his administration's handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, a senior Puerto Rican official defended the federal government's response to the disaster.

Speaking to MSNBC, the island's secretary of state, Luis Rivera Marín, said the federal government had provided much needed assistance.

"I would not like to believe the mayor is politicizing this issue and this situation that the island is facing," he said. "Without [the] federal government, Puerto Rico would now be facing real dire situations."

Rivera Marín noted Trump had waived shipping regulations to help move supplies to the island. He also said he could see FEMA and military staff working on the island.

"I think the mayor should focus on getting San Juan back in the ground.

"I completely disagree that we've been left out in the cold, out under the sun, without any support from federal government," he said.

—David Mack

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The mayor of Puerto Rico's largest city on Friday blasted the federal response to Hurricane Maria, accusing FEMA of not being prepared for the devastation that the powerful storm would unleash on the island.

After days of devastation on the island as crews struggle to distribute supplies to increasingly desperate residents, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told reporters it had come to this:

"I will do what I never thought I was going to do: begging. Begging anyone that can hear us to save us from dying. If anybody out there is liste"ning to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy."

Her news conference prompted a rebuke from President Trump on Saturday, who took to Twitter to unleash on the mayor.

"The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump," he wrote.

Read more about his Twitter attacks here.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Akoya Emmanuel said she had two choices Friday morning: make the trek into town to find bleach to clean the mold from the exposed walls of her home or stand in line for hours to ensure her two daughters had something to eat that day.

Like thousands of other US Virgin Islanders, the 33-year-old single mother lives tucked in the hills of Saint Thomas, their winding roads still ensnared by mangled trees and overhanging power lines. For residents without access to transportation after Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated these islands, simply traveling to receive food and supplies is an all-day event. Many peoples' cars still lie under chunks of homes, roots, and sheet metal, and public transportation has only recently returned and is limited to town hubs.

"If you need something bad enough you have to come out," Emmanuel said as she shuffled forward in line to receive a case of boxed water and canned Vienna sausages from military personnel. "I have nothing. What we have been surviving on is those sausages and that's if we get it. That's our hope for today."

Read more here.

—Brianna Sacks