Storm's Humanitarian Crisis, Death Toll Grow in Puerto Rico

'Without a doubt the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico'
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 23, 2017 5:04 PM CDT
Maria's Death Toll Hits 10 and Counting in Puerto Rico
National Guard personnel offer evacuation to a Toa Ville resident after the passing of Hurricane Maria, in Puerto Rico, Friday, September 22, 2017.   (Carlos Giusti)

A humanitarian crisis grew Saturday in Puerto Rico as towns were left without fresh water, fuel, power, or phone service following Hurricane Maria's devastating passage across the island, the AP reports. A group of anxious mayors arrived in the capital to meet with Gov. Ricardo Rossello to present a long list of items they urgently need. The north coastal town of Manati had run out of fuel and fresh water, Mayor Jose Sanchez Gonzalez said. "Hysteria is starting to spread. The hospital is about to collapse. It's at capacity," he said, crying. "We need someone to help us immediately." The death toll from Maria in Puerto Rico was at least 10, including two police officers who drowned in floodwaters in the western town of Aguada. That number was expected to climb as officials from remote towns continued to check in with officials in San Juan.

Authorities in the town of Vega Alta on the north coast said they had been unable to reach an entire neighborhood and were particularly worried about residents of a nursing home. "I need to get there today," Mayor Oscar Santiago said. "Not tomorrow, today." Rossello said Maria would clearly cost more than the last major storm to wallop the island, Hurricane Georges in September 1998. "This is without a doubt the biggest catastrophe in modern history for Puerto Rico," he said. Officials said 1,360 of the island's 1,600 cellphone towers were downed, and 85% of above-ground and underground phone and internet cables were knocked out. With roads blocked and phones dead, officials said, the situation may worsen. "We haven't seen the extent of the damage," said Rossello, who didn't know when power might be restored. (More Puerto Rico stories.)

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