Puerto Rico After Hurricane Maria: Death Toll Climbs, Diseases Spread

Sean Breslin
Published: October 11, 2017

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria made a devastating landfall in Puerto Rico, officials say the situation is hardly getting better as the death toll continues to climb.

At least 43 people were killed on the island both during and after the storm, according to Gov. Ricardo Rossello. Across the Caribbean, Maria was responsible for at least 72 deaths, but Puerto Rican officials continue to insist the official death toll has been far less than the actual number of deaths that occurred in the U.S. commonwealth.

(MORE: Death Toll Rises Again in Florida Nursing Home Tragedy)

As of Wednesday morning, about 10 percent of the island has seen its power restored, and only one-third of the island has cell service, according to a website that's tracking the progress of the recovery.

"There is no estimated date right now," Rossello told reporters in a news conference Friday, as reported by NPR. "We have established, right at the beginning of this week, we want to have 10 percent of the energy generation in Puerto Rico. Now we're up to 10.6 percent. And our expectation is, within the next month, to have 25 percent."

Deadly Disease Spreads on the Island

People cross the site of a bridge that was washed away during Hurricane Maria in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Morovis, Puerto Rico, Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017.
(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

In Puerto Rico, at least four people have died out of a total of 10 known cases from a disease known as leptospirosis, Rossello told reporters Wednesday. The disease, which isn't uncommon in the Caribbean, is spread through the urine of animals, according to the Associated Press.

This discovery has left officials concerned about the lack of sanitation on the island in the wake of the storm.

Authorities have urged residents to avoid bathing or drinking water from streams that may have been polluted by floodwaters, the report added. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating the cases while patients are treated with antibiotics, Rossello also said.

Town Trump Visited Remains in the Dark

President Donald Trump walks with FEMA administrator Brock Long, second from right, and Lt. Gen. Jeff Buchanan, right as he tours an area affected by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.
(AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump's long-awaited visit to Puerto Rico included a visit to the devastated town of Guaynabo, where he shot rolls of paper towels at residents as if they were basketballs. Eight days later, the town still lacks electricity, and drinking water remains difficult to find, according to a report from Buzzfeed News.

"The biggest priority is food," local resident Doris Morales told Buzzfeed News. "Not everybody has the money to go buy food from outside every day. And if you go to the supermarkets, the shelves are practically empty. You can’t tell the world that we’re OK. We’re not OK, we’re not OK, we’re not OK."

Guaynabo, despite being just a 20-minute drive from San Juan and home to bankers and other citizens who have above-average incomes, is still not getting the help it needs, the town's residents said, and the president's visit didn't shine enough of a light on the situation there.

"It’s very difficult," Rosalia Bayez, a nurse attendant for the elderly who has been living with her mother in Guaynabo since the storm, told Buzzfeed News. "We get by with candles or torches, and we are eating just one meal per day. There isn’t a lot of food in the shops."

Basic Necessities Still Unavailable

Efrain Diaz Figueroa, right, walks by his sister's home destroyed in Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017.
(AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

It's not just water and food – healthcare is also suffering on the island as a lack of electricity leaves options scarce.

"Because of the electricity situation, a lot of people died, and are still dying," Lisandra Figueroa told the New York Times. "You can’t get sick now."

Figueroa's father, Harry, died a week ago when power outages kept him from getting oxygen assistance he desperately needed, the report added. After he died, Figueroa's body decomposed badly because there was no refrigeration available, the Times also said.

Such are the horrors of life in Puerto Rico in the wake of Maria. Hospitals don't have enough medicine, and even after the Navy sent the hospital ship Comfort to be docked on Puerto Rico's coast to help ease the developing medical disaster, only seven patients were being treated aboard the ship on Monday, the Times reported.

The Comfort can serve 250 patients at once, the report also said.

The Weather Company’s primary journalistic mission is to report on breaking weather news, the environment and the importance of science to our lives. This story does not necessarily represent the position of our parent company, IBM.

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