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Hurricane Maria: Residents of devastated Puerto Rican island Vieques still waiting for help

By North America correspondent Zoe Daniel, Wednesday October 4, 2017 - 20:37 EDT
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One of the homes devastated by Hurricane Maria. - ABC

It's only 11 kilometres from Puerto Rico's main island, but Vieques might as well be a world away.

The island was devastated by Hurricane Maria on September 20 and the residents left to fend for themselves.

A fortnight after the storm there's still an almost total communication blackout. Tourist businesses are shut down.

Some people are queueing up at the airport to leave, at least temporarily.

"We're getting out of here. We're going to Florida. We're getting a plane," Christian Evans said.

Supplies are finally starting to arrive, but the food, water and fuel shortages affecting millions in Puerto Rico are compounded here because Vieques is cut off from the mainland.

"Don't come over here, we are OK. Please stay over there," we heard one woman tell her daughter in Texas as they made phone contact for the first time since the hurricane.

"If I need something I will let you know but we are OK."

'We need help over here'

There's frustration among residents who've received little assistance.

"The Government, you cannot rely on them," one man said.

"We need help over here. Are you more efficient sending troops to Syria than helping your own people? Come on, put your cards on the table, Government, and do something."

Most timber structures on Vieques have been damaged or destroyed. Some houses are completely flattened.

Sturdier houses have fared better but we met one family who still lost everything when the windows and doors of their home blew off and everything was damaged inside.

"I haven't received water, food, nor has my brother and he lost his house," Yolanda Carmona said.

"I'm not the only one. If you go around and see the houses they're all destroyed. The people around have received nothing. There is a mother over there with five kids and their windows blew off and no-one has come yet."

We've seen damage like this all over Puerto Rico. Many people have had absolutely no help, so while authorities are saying the supplies are here and President Donald Trump is saying the media is spreading fake news, this is what we're seeing on the ground.

'We rely on each other'

Mr and said the impact of the storm could have been much worse.

On the weekend Mr Trump tweeted that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them" rather than help themselves.

To some extent the residents of Vieques have taken matters into their own hands.

"The sort of spirit of this island in general is that we rely on each other," said Laine Gorman, part of the Vieques Love community collective trying to restore normality.

"The storm I think was Wednesday. By Sunday the community had come out with their diggers, their chainsaws, their sweat, and had cleared all the homes and businesses and really helped each other dig out of the rubble.

"We know that federal agencies are working to get to us but it's just taking a long time. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] is working but they're not here yet, so you have a lot of families with no rooves, no nothing, so that's a big frustration."


© ABC 2017

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