WASHINGTON ― Water is rationed. Scabies is spreading. Grocery stores are lined with empty shelves, if they’re open at all. People are fainting as they wait in lines for hours in sweltering heat, because they have to check into a FEMA hub to get small amounts of food and supplies being guarded by armed officers. That’s if they can even make it to FEMA.
This is the jarring reality that greeted registered nurses Alicia Schwartz and Misty Richards when they arrived in Puerto Rico. They didn’t know each other before last week, when they flew into San Juan from New York and Oregon, respectively, to volunteer to help with the humanitarian crisis on the island ravaged by Hurricane Maria. Now they spend every night together, camped out in a vacated baseball stadium locker room with other volunteers trying to aid 3.4 million fellow Americans in their moment of need.
FEMA and military personnel have been leading relief efforts, but from the looks of it, something isn’t working. It’s been more than three weeks since the hurricane hit, and 36 percent of people still don’t have drinking water, according to a government website updated daily. About 84 percent still don’t have power.
And that’s if you think the data are accurate. In a phone interview, Schwartz and Richards laughed as HuffPost read aloud statistics from the government site. They say it’s way worse.
“That’s lies,” said Schwartz, 54. “First of all, we don’t even know if the water is drinkable. Where is FEMA collecting this information? This is not what we’re seeing.”
Schwartz said she’s met people who haven’t had much access to drinking water for weeks, so they keep filling up containers from rivers or mountain streams. But that water isn’t clean and can cause bacterial diseases, including leptospirosis, which is spread by animal urine. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Wednesday that at least 10 people have suspected cases of leptospirosis, and four deaths may be tied to…