Live Updates: Puerto Rican Official Defends Federal Government's Disaster Response

This live post has now closed. Please follow this new story for continuing updates on Hurricane Maria.

Here's what's happening:

  • This live post has now closed. Please follow this new story here for fresh updates on Hurricane Maria.
  • At least 16 people have died in Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria made landfall as a category 4 hurricane with 155 mph winds. Dominica's police chief reported 27 fatalities.
  • Puerto Rico is devastated. The island remains without power, electricity, or communications and it could take more than a decade to rebuild its infrastructure.
  • Authorities have extended a nightly curfew in Puerto Rico "indefinitely."
  • An exasperated mayor of San Juan said Friday, "if anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying."
  • In a series of tweets on Saturday, President Trump attacked the mayor for her comments and complained that Puerto Ricans "want everything to be done for them."
  • Trump said he would visit the island on Tuesday, as the White House defended his handling of the disaster after his tweets about sports figures.
  • Other parts of the Caribbean, including the British Virgin Islands and the US Virgin Islands, are still reeling from the destructive force of Hurricane Irma.


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This live post has now closed. Please follow this new story here for fresh updates on Hurricane Maria.

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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…

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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Puerto Rico secretary of state defends federal government response

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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Trump attacks San Juan mayor after she begs for help

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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This Is What It's Like For Thousands Trying To Find Food And Water In The Hurricane-Hit US Virgin Islands

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

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A National Guard soldier found dead in St. Thomas has been identified

A Virgin Islands National Guard soldier who was found dead Thursday in St. Thomas has been identified as Private First Class Kyjuan R. Naughton.

Naughton, a 21-year-old who began his service in Dec. 2014, was a resident of St. Croix, according to a statement released by the Virgin Islands National Guard.

"My deepest condolences go out to PFC Naughton's family, friends and the V.I. National Guard," Brigadier General Deborah Y. Howell said in the statement. "My heart bleeds as everyone in my formation becomes my child."

The cause of death is still under investigation by the Virgin Islands Police Department.

Salvador Hernandez

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If grocery stores don't reopen soon, Puerto Rico's government could take over

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Friday that he had told the island's store owners to get ready to reopen their doors, or the government would buy their stock and distribute it.

In the days since Hurricane Maria hit, thousands of containers of goods have piled up in Puerto Rico's ports. FEMA has said it's managed to get its aid supplies into circulation, and the remaining containers are food, medicine, and other goods destined for local shops.

With more gas stations online and more roads roads cleared, Rosselló said he expected business owners to start moving goods from the port to their store shelves.

"So tomorrow morning we should be either seeing a lot of those stores getting their goods or the government will just take them, buy them of course, and distribute them where the needs are," he said.

MIDA, the trade group representing supermarkets in Puerto Rico, said Thursday that stores had struggled with a lack of diesel to run generators as well as a lack of gasoline to fuel delivery trucks. Security has also been a challenge, the group said.

Group leaders met with local officials to discuss how to address those challenges earlier this week, and as of Friday, the Puerto Rican government said just under half of grocery stores were operational.

Puerto Rico's food industry says stores can't get diesel to run generators, because delivery truckers are selling it on the black market.

But an acute diesel shortage — and an active black market — was still keeping many stores from opening and bringing shipments to their shelves, the New York Times reported.

Even at open stores, downed communications systems and a lack of power were keeping people from making purchases. Across much of the island, ATMs were down and stores couldn't process credit cards, government food benefits, or even phone payments.

“You’re broke even if you have money,” Juan Jimenez, 40, told the Times.

—Claudia Koerner

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San Juan mayor wears "Help Us We Are Dying" shirt on CNN

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz on Friday renewed her calls for federal officials to better meet the critical needs of Puerto Ricans following Hurricane Maria.

Cruz appeared on CNN wearing a shirt that read, "Help Us We Are Dying." And she told Anderson Cooper it was not a metaphor: with a lack of clean water and access to critical medical care, people remain in serious danger, she said.

"I'm in the capital city, but we are literally dying here," she said. "People cannot fathom what it is to have children drinking from creeks, people in nursing homes who don't have any oxygen."

Earlier in the day, Cruz blasted the federal government's response to the disaster so far, telling reporters FEMA is "killing us with inefficiency."

Cruz told Cooper she and her family have been staying in a shelter since their house flooded in the storm. She said the first assistance she had seen came Thursday, when she received several crates of water, food, and baby supplies. But she sent it to another town, where she said FEMA had told residents they could not expect to receive anything until at least Monday.

Communications, power, and life-saving medical treatment need to be prioritized, she said, and government plans need to be adapted for the real needs of people on the ground.

"I know what the US heart is all about," said Cruz, who lived on the mainland for 12 years. "You are intelligent, daring people. So I just don't understand why things have become so complicated and the logistics are so unsurmountable."

—Claudia Koerner

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Vice President Pence will visit Puerto Rico next week

Informed @vp about the situation on the ground/needs/response & recovery efforts.Afterwards,told me he would be visiting #PuertoRico Friday.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Friday that Vice President Mike Pence would be visiting the island next week.

The two leaders spoke by phone, and Rosselló said he had given an update on the needs and response on the ground. Pence will be visiting Puerto Rico on Oct. 6, he said.

Pence replied in a tweet where he quoted President Trump.

.@ricardorossello, as @POTUS said: "We are with you, we will stay with you, and we will come back stronger than eve…

"We are with you, we will stay with you, and we will come back stronger than ever."

The president is scheduled to visit Puerto Rico himself on Tuesday.

—Claudia Koerner

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San Juan mayor slams FEMA response, begs for help

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 stagnant 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 listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with inefficiency."

Cruz's comments stand in sharp contrast to the tone most White House officials, including President Trump, have taken when when lauding the federal response in Puerto Rico.

Read more here.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Puerto Ricans are returning to the islands to see if their families are OK

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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Storm chaser captures fury of Hurricane Maria as the storm made landfall in Puerto Rico

View this video on YouTube

Storm chaser Josh Morgerman released video Friday of Hurricane Maria making landfall in Humacao, on the southeast side of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20.

Maria, a Category 4 storm with 155 mph winds, was the strongest hurricane to strike the island in 89 years.

—Jon Passantino

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FEMA and military officials say progress is being made as more federal resources pour into Puerto Rico

FEMA and military officials said Friday they are continuing to bring in federal resources — and working to get locals and others in the private sector to take on more of the response.

Authorities would not provide numbers related to fatalities, damaged homes, or power service, saying the situation remained "fluid." But, they said, federal resources from multiple agencies were working with the local government and private sector.

Currently, FEMA is delivering food and water to regional support centers, where it's then handed off to the National Guard or local governments to deliver to residents. Federal officials were continuing to provide diesel fuel to run hospital generators, and a fuel task force was working to restore service at gas stations and also supply high-priority businesses.

"We’re looking to get the private sector in to do more of that," said John Rabin, acting regional FEMA administrator.

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, commander of the US Fifth Army, arrived in Puerto Rico Thursday night and was leading the military's command on the ground. Troops from all forces of the military were continuing to join the response of Puerto Rico's National Guard and Army Reserve, he said.

"I can't give you a total number," he said. "I can tell you DOD is committed to continue to bring people in as long as there's a need."

As of Friday, Rabin said there were no FEMA commodities being held up in San Juan's port, where earlier this week thousands of containers sat idle because of a lack of truck drivers and cleared roads. But getting to the interior of the island remained a challenge with downed power lines, washed out bridges, and blocked roads.

Buchanan said the military would be doing some of the work to address those issues, but he also planned to use federal funds for paying local contractors — pumping funds into the local economy.

"It's actually better for the long-term recovery than just using military forces," he said.

As fuel continues to become more available on the island — federal workers were providing security to allow fuel trucks to work 24 hours a day — Rabin added the private sector supply chain is coming back to life. He added FEMA would be working with the Army Corps of Engineers and other Department of Defense partners to map road infrastructure and ensure no areas of the island were totally cut off from supplies.

"We've got a full federal family down here working to help our fellow citizens of Puerto Rico," he said.

—Claudia Koerner

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Trump says Puerto Rico is facing total devastation, but that 'it's going really well, considering'

"The loss of life, it's always tragic. But it's been incredible. The results that we've had with respect to loss of…

President Trump praised his administration's response to Puerto Rico while speaking to reporters Friday, even though he said the island is facing, "total devastation."

"I think it's going really well, considering," Trump told reporters. "If you look at it, the electricity is gone, roads are gone, the telecommunications is gone. It's all gone."

Trump's comments seemed to try to echo the theme of other White House officials who have been praising and commending the response of federal agencies after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico even though, by the president's own comments, people in the island are facing dire situations.

"The loss of life, it's always tragic, but it's been incredible," Trump said. "The results we've had, with respect to los of life. People can't believe how successful that has been relatively speaking."

Still, even Trump seemed unable to avoid the challenges facing federal and local officials.

"It's a whole different level nobody's even seen, when you have a Category-5 wipe out an island like this," Trump said. "You have nothing. You don't have roads. You don't have anything, and you don't have the people to even operate the equipment."

Hurricane Maria, in fact, struck Puerto Rico as a Category-4 hurricane.

Trump also said the governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Roselló, has praised the administration's response.

"We have done an incredible job considering there is nothing to work with," Trump said.

“We don’t have a supply chain that is working”

Local officials in Puerto Rico have disagreed with Trump's assessment and that of other administration officials.

"I respectfully disagree with president Trump, and I'm sure that he isn' getting the data that we are seeing in the streets," San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulí Cruz told reporters in a press conference. "He knows that if the supply chain does not work, things do not work."

Local mayor have spoken out about the difficulty in getting supplies to many communities, and their assessment of FEMA's response after the hurricane stands in stark contrast with what Trump and White House officials have said.

"They were not prepared for this," Cruz said at the press conference. "People are drinking from the creek."

—Salvador Hernandez

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"The situation in Puerto Rico is not satisfactory:" DHS Acting Secretary responds to backlash against earlier comments

"Cleary the situation here in Puerto not satisfactory," DHS Acting Sec. Duke says, responding to criticis…

Elaine Duke, the Department of Homeland Security's acting secretary, responded Friday to the backlash against earlier comments where she said she was satisfied with the US government response to the devastation in Puerto Rico.

"Clearly, the situation here in Puerto Rico after the devastating hurricane is not satisfactory," Duke said at a press conference after arriving on the ravaged island on Friday.

"But together we are getting there, and the progress today is very, very strong," she said.

Duke's comments came after San Juan's mayor blasted her for saying Thursday that the government response to the hurricane was "a good news story" and that she was "very satisfied" with the relief efforts.

"Yesterday I was asked if I was happy and satisfied with the recovery," Duke said at the news conference, accompanied by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello. "I am proud of the work that's being done. I am proud of Americans helping Americans."

"The president and I will not be fully satisfied, however, until every Puerto Rican is back home, the power is back on, clean water is freely available, schools and hospitals are fully open and the Puerto Rican economy is working," she added.

Duke stated that Trump sent her to Puerto Rico and that she "needed to see it in person" to make sure the county had the assets it needed for recovery.

"Despite working together, I know that the people in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are suffering. We are here, and we have been here to help them," she said.

— Tasneem Nashrulla

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A US Navy hospital ship is finally headed to Puerto Rico

The USNS Comfort left Norfolk, Virginia, on Friday afternoon and was headed to Puerto Rico to provide medical care to the hurricane-ravaged island. The journey is expected to take five days.

In a press briefing prior to the ship's departure on Friday, the commanding officer of the ship's hospital, Capt. Kevin D. Buckley, said that the nearly 900-person crew is "really eager to help" the people of Puerto Rico.

The USNS Comfort and its sister ship, the USNS Mercy, are the world's largest floating hospitals and at full capacity in a combat mission can provide 1,000 beds, including 80 intensive care beds. Each vessel has an emergency room, 12 operating rooms, and every other facility that you would find at a US hospital.

Buckley said that the ship's personnel and operations have been specifically tailored to provide humanitarian assistance to Puerto Rico. "In combat, we don't bring OBGYN doctors and pediatricians," he said. For this mission, the ship's crew consists of 522 medical personnel and more than 300 corpsmen who are responsible for the vessel's day-to-day operations. Comfort also will bring much-needed medical supplies to Puerto Rico, including 5,000 units of blood. Upon arrival, the ship will operate six of its operating rooms and provide 200 beds and 50 ICU beds.

"We don't know what we're going to be tasked with, we don't know what the medical ask is, that's [a decision] by higher-up national authorities," Buckley said, adding that the crew is eager to go wherever they are needed and provide whatever assistance is necessary.

The Trump administration made the decision to send the hospital ship two days ago amidst criticism of its lack of response to the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico and a pointed tweet from Hillary Clinton that specifically said that Comfort should be deployed.

Ellie Hall

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Trump says the federal government is "engaged fully" in the disaster in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

Before speaking to the American Manufacturers' Association Friday, President Trump said he was sending his prayers to the people of Puerto Rico and stressed the federal government's efforts to address the crisis, including 10,000 National Guard personnel on the ground.

"All appropriate departments of our government from homeland security to defense are engaged fully in the disaster, and the response and recovery effort probably has never been seen for something like this," he said. "This is an island surrounded by water, big — with the territory and local governments which are unfortunately not able to handle this crisis on their own — just totally unable to."

Trump described a lack of police and truck drivers and an electrical grid and infrastructure in "poor shape," before saying, "We will have to start all over again."

"Ultimately the government of Puerto Rico will have to work with us to determine how this massive rebuilding effort will end up," he said, adding it would be "one of the biggest re-buildings ever."

The president said the government will also have to determine how to handle the island's existing debt.

"We will not rest until the people of Puerto Rico are safe," said Trump. "These are great people. We want them to be safe and sound and secure and we will be there every day until that happens."

—Cora Lewis

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Puerto Rico's local mayors are the front line of relief efforts as they wait for the government

SAN JUAN — More than week after Hurricane Maria smashed through Puerto Rico, leaving at least 16 people dead, the island barely has reliable electricity, clean water, and telecommunications — all while suffering from security concerns. With the American federal government being criticized for a slow response, it has been up to the mayors of Puerto Rico to help the island and keep order and pressure on higher officials amid the devastation.

The metropolitan area of San Juan — which comprises the municipalities of San Juan, Guaynabo, Bayamón, Toa Baja, Carolina, Trujillo Alto and Cataño — is mostly still standing. There is still no electricity to speak of in the majority of those areas, except pockets of communities around hospitals that have begun to receive service from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (AEE or PREPA).

For residents of the island — who are US citizens — shock, despair, and questions of why are setting in. The moment feels like their 9/11, with people’s lives changed forever.

Read more here.

-- Edwin Jusino

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Mayor of San Juan: "This is a life-or-death story. This is the story of a devastation that continues to worsen"

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz blasted the acting director of Homeland Security Friday for calling the government response to the hurricane a "good news story" and saying she was "very satisfied" with the administration's "ability to reach people."

"Well, maybe from where she's standing it's a good news story. When you are drinking from a creek, it's not a good news story. When you don't have food for a baby, it's not a good news story... This is a people are dying story. This is a life or death story. This is a there's a truckload of stuff that cannot be taken to people story. This is a story of a devastation that continues to worsen because people are not getting food and water," Cruz said on CNN.

Cruz called the statement "irresponsible" and asked that Duke come visit the towns that had been devastated on the island and the residents who lacked medical care.

"It's not a good news story when people are dying when they don't have dialysis, and when the generators aren't working, and the oxygen is not provided for them," she said. "Where is there good news here? The good news is we are getting heard."

San Juan mayor reacts to Homeland Security chief calling Puerto Rico a "good news" story: "This is a people are dyi…

The mayor asked that the White House use San Juan as a more effective point of distribution, using drones and parachutes to deliver aid, including drinking water. She thanked the president for calling San Juan, but said there are "77 other towns that are waiting anxiously" for help.

"This is not about water that's warm so you can take a bath," she said. "This is about water that is drinkable so you can save a life."

Communications on the island remained badly inhibited, according to the mayor. Given the dire circumstances, reaching nursing homes and homes for the elderly is a top priority, she said, "because they are becoming just human cages for people that are sick and unable to fend for themselves."

"It's a logistics nightmare they did not anticipate," said Cruz, of the federal government's response. "Let's fix it."

-- Cora Lewis

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Puerto Rico's creditors face a big choice: harden stance or soften?

A New York–based hedge fund, Aurelius Capital, that owns about $470 million worth of Puerto Rican bonds is still looking to argue in court in November that the board overseeing the island's massive bankruptcy is unconstitutional — meaning that Aurelius should be paid back more promptly — despite the government's fiscal situation looking even worse following the devastation of Hurricane Maria.

Another group of bondholders is taking a more constructive route: It has offered to lend Puerto Rico's bankrupt electric utility, Prepa, $1 billion so that the utility can request more funds from FEMA for reconstruction. In return, those bondholders would give up $1 billion of their current bonds for $850 million of new ones that had higher priority for repayment from the utility. That case is also working its way through federal court.

Other than the loan offer to Prepa — which needs to be approved by a judge — the hedge funds and other financiers that own billions of dollars of the island's bonds have largely stayed mute throughout the still-unfurling humanitarian disaster on the island. Before Hurricane Maria struck, the bondholders had been haggling for every last penny they could get through a court-governed bankruptcy-like process that was set up through a law passed earlier this year called Promesa.

Now, the devastation caused by Maria will likely reduce even further the amount of money that government can make available to the debt holders — and its willingness to make repayment a priority, given the myriad urgent needs.

Read more here.

-- Matthew Zeitlin

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Trump tweets "big decisions will have to be made" as to the cost of rebuilding Puerto Rico

After the president and the federal government faced criticism this week for their slow response in providing relief to Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, President tweeted praise for his administration from the Ricardo Rosselló, governor of Puerto Rico, adding that "big decisions have to be made" regarding the cost of rebuilding the islands going forward.

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello just stated: "The Administration and the President, every time we've spoken, they've delivered......

...The fact is that Puerto Rico has been destroyed by two hurricanes. Big decisions will have to be made as to the cost of its rebuilding!

Rosselló made the comment on Fox and Friends in the early morning.

Thursday, after repeated requests from the governor, the president waived the Jones Act for 10 days, a maritime law Rosselló said had been restricting the shipping of aid to the island, by imposing tariffs.

In a press briefing, also Thursday, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders defended the federal response to the crisis in the Caribbean, calling it "textbook" and "done well."

-- Cora Lewis

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Hospitals on the US Virgin Islands are destroyed and doctors are running out of critical supplies

SAINT THOMAS, US VIRGIN ISLANDS — First came Hurricane Irma, battering St. Thomas in the US Virgin Islands. Less than two weeks later came Maria, again hitting the island’s homes, infrastructure, and wrecking its two hospitals.

Surrounded by army vehicles, massive piles of debris, and mangled palm trees, Schneider Regional Medical, like the rest of the island, looks like it survived a bombing.

“People either survive or they don't in these situations,” said Dr. Brian Bacot, who has seen around 200 patients and has performed more than 15 surgeries since the hurricanes arrived. Bacot — an orthopedic surgeon who works in part at Schneider and at his own private practice — is now just taking anyone who comes to him in need.

Built in the early 1980s and the only hospital on St. Thomas, the facility was struggling to pay its bills, obtain medication, and refurbish its aging wings before the battering storms. Now, a majority of its floors lie stripped and damaged, wires hang from the ceiling, and mounds of paperwork still sit piled atop dusty, wrecked desks.

Meanwhile, green army tents are being set up outside to house displaced patients, perform operations, and help alleviate the flow of people seeking medical attention.

“It’s surreal looking,” he said during a break between seeing patients.

Read more here.

—Brianna Sacks

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These Puerto Ricans are helping people get in touch with loved ones

WASHINGTON – From the 8th floor of a downtown Washington, DC, office building, seven people are the sole link between frantic callers on the mainland and loved ones they haven’t heard from since Hurricane Maria pummeled Puerto Rico.

A few hours with them underscores the chaos that is the Puerto Rico relief effort.

On one side of the long wooden table inside the conference room, Jose Gosende, 39, a volunteer from Virginia, was speaking with a woman trying to track down a sick uncle who was bedridden.

“I know it’s difficult but it’s important to remain calm,” Gosende said, scratching the back of his head through his dark brown hair. “My dad lives over there, too, and I haven’t heard from him in a week.”

Last week, the Puerto Rico Federal Affairs Administration, Puerto Rico's representative office in Washington, became the main point of contact between the island and officials in DC. With communications to the island virtually nonexistent, the office launched a helpline to coordinate donations and help people contact friends or family. They idea was to take down caller’s information and enter it into a database that would be shared with authorities on the island who would try to locate people – with priority given to those with urgent medical needs.

From the beginning, the phones never stopped ringing.

Read more here.

—Adolfo Flores

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White House defends its handling of Puerto Rico hurricane recovery

The White House tried to defend itself Thursday afternoon over criticisms of its delayed handling of aid to Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

At a press briefing, Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert addressed complaints raised by Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who chartered a plane to Puerto Rico full of supplies and accused the federal government of mismanagement.

"Thank you for providing aid but you're wrong," said Bossert.

"I would challenge you to get a better understanding before rendering that verdict on what we've done, what we have been doing, and how blown away you will be when you see the full totality of the picture," Bossert continued. "I'm sure the mayor has had some positive experiences, I wouldn't be critical of him personally, but he is probably, just like with the Jones Act criticism he rendered, just not yet informed on the facts."

Bossert also rebuffed questions over why Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, a three-star general, was only appointed to lead the effort in Puerto Rico on Thursday.

"Because it didn't require a three-star general eight days ago," replied Bossert.

When asked by a reporter if it was a mistake to not have appointed a general sooner, Bossert replied, "No, not at all... this is textbook and it's been done well."

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders also addressed the response in Puerto Rico, declaring: "The full weight of the United States government is engaged to ensure that food, water, health care and other life saving resources are making it to the people in need."

Sanders said 10,000 federal relief workers, including 7,200 troops, are now on the island and that 44 of the island's 69 hospitals are now fully operational.

"Our message to the incredible people of Puerto Rico is this: the president is behind you, we all are, the entire country. Your unbreakable spirit is an inspiration to us all. We are praying for you and working for you and we will not let you down," said Sanders.

— Amber Jamieson

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Emergency responders still facing damaged roads, lack of communication, to reach those in need

FEMA and military officials said Thursday that damaged roads and lack of communication are hampering efforts to reach those in need of help in Puerto Rico.

"Hurricane Maria was, and I will not mince words, a catastrophic storm," John Rabin, regional administrator for FEMA, said in a call with reporters. "The impact on US citizens who live here is tremendous."

Many parts of the island continue to lack communication systems, forcing FEMA officials to communicate with leaders of Puerto Rico's 78 municipalities by "driving through the woods, cutting paths" and using four-wheel drive vehicles to reach some areas of the island.

Despite the challenges, Rabin said officials have contacted and distributed 2.4 million meals and 1.7 million bottles of water in total to all 78 municipalities in the island.

The lack of drivers and diesel fuel, which hampered distribution efforts in the initial days after Hurricane Maria, has also been alleviated, said Alex de la Campa, FEMA director of the Caribbean.

Most main roads have been opened to delivery trucks, he said, and local officials will be coordinating with the US Army Corps of Engineers and other Department of Defense officials to help clear and repair smaller roads.

To help distribution efforts, FEMA and the Department of Defense, along with Puerto Rico's National Guard, have set up 11 distribution centers throughout the island, where representatives from local governments will be able to pick up food, water, and other supplies daily to distribute to their communities.

As of Thursday, Rabin said 676 gas stations had also been reopened to ease the distribution of fuel, compared to just 300 stations three days ago.

Puerto Rico's government has also identified 29 hospitals on the island that will receive all current patients.

Officials were unable, however, to provide a timeline on whether other issues facing Puerto Rico's residents might be resolved.

Officials, however, were not able to provide a timeline on when communications systems and electricity would be fully restored, or when people staying in shelters would be given more long-term housing.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Rubio calls for military to take over aid distribution in Puerto Rico

Conditions in parts of #PuertoRico getting worse. The main problem is a logistical one, the distribution of aid beyond #SanJuan 1/2

Likely need the @DeptofDefense to address some "battlefield" like logistical challenges in #PuertoRico.This will NOT improve on its own 2/2

Sen. Marco Rubio on Thursday said conditions in some parts of Puerto Rico were getting worse, and he urged the Department of Defense to take over aid operations.

"Likely need the @DeptofDefense to address some 'battlefield' like logistical challenges in #PuertoRico.This will NOT improve on its own," the Florida Republican tweeted.

Rubio expanded on his comments to CNN, saying that the powerful one-two-punch of hurricanes Irma and Maria, plus existing infrastructure challenges on the island, had created a unique crisis that authorities could not handle via traditional multiagency responses.

"The supply chain, the logistical chain on the island is broken, it isn't working because of the storm and other challenges and it needs to be restored," he said. "In my view, the only people who can restore it, who have the capacity to do so quickly in the short term and then turn it over to the authorities there in Puerto Rico is the Department of Defense. They are logistical experts."

The Army Corps of Engineers was already on the ground to restore power lines, but Rubio said military expertise was also needed to bring back roads, bridges, and communications.

A lack of reliable communication methods has made coordination among local officials nearly impossible, Rubio added. And getting necessary transportation and crews in place for recovery has been more complicated than on the US mainland, where aid could simply be driven in from a neighboring state, he said.

"The need is greater, and the type of need is different," he said. "It's much more logistical at this point, and only the DOD, in my view, has the capacity to take charge of that and restore it in the short term."

When asked by CNN if aid operations should be put in the hands of a general, FEMA Administrator Brock Long said the media wasn't giving enough attention to existing aid efforts.

"A sustainment force of DOD was deployed several days ago and there are things coming in, there's a press conference that was held this morning in Puerto Rico with General Kim, Admiral Hughes, my staff, and the governor to talk jointly where we are versus where we need to be that was not picked up by major media networks across the country this morning," he said.

—Claudia Koerner

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Humanitarian aid continues to arrive in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands

Eight flights operated by the Department of Defense are scheduled to land in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands Thursday, delivering food and water, power generation capabilities, medical supplies, and communications support, officials said.

In Puerto Rico, one plane is delivering a generator to support radar approach control flight operations, which will increase the number of flights able to travel in and out of San Juan International Airport and surrounding airfields.

A second plane is delivering a US Coast Guard Mobile Medical Unit to help respond to emergencies, and a Royal Canadian Air Force plane is delivering a US Civil Affairs Information Support Element to help disseminate public information.

A final plane is delivering the Federal Aviation Administration's initial response team from Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Georgia, to provide airfield support with personnel, generators, and heavy duty trucks.

In the US Virgin Islands, a plane carrying 10 support personnel and 33 tons of equipment is scheduled to land on the island of Saint Thomas, and three planes are arriving in Saint Croix with 22 pallets of bottled water and 25 pallets of meals able to support 250,000 residents.

Marines continue to operate from Roosevelt Roads Airfield in Puerto Rico, clearing roads, and distributing commodities and fuel, officials said, as well as providing helicopter support to officials assessing all Puerto Rican hospitals.

—Cora Lewis

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Former general in charge of military relief efforts after Katrina blasts Puerto Rico response

The former general in charge of coordinating military relief efforts after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans took the Trump administration to task on Thursday for its response to the Puerto Rico disaster.

"I don't know what the hell is going on back there," Former Lt. General Russel Honore said on CNN. "They're using words I don't understand."

Honore served as commander of the Joint Task Force Katrina, and is widely credited with salvaging the original bungled FEMA and government response to Katrina.

Honore said that one of the reasons he was so effective was because former President Bush gave him authority to execute all requests and needs without delays.

Lt. General Jeffrey Buchanan, who was appointed on Wednesday to lead military recovery efforts in Puerto Rico, needs a similar nod from President Trump in the coming days to turn around a deteriorating situation, Honore added.

"General Buchanan needs to get that call from the president that says, 'You do what you have to do to make it happen and save lives,'" Honore said. "Puerto Rico is bigger than Katrina."

"It doesn't look like we've learned anything. We're slow," Honore added. "The issue with the United States is we always do the right thing, but we do it slow and late. And right now the people of Puerto Rico are going to pay that bill."

—Talal Ansari

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Jones Act shipping restrictions waived for Puerto Rico after governor's request

The federal government has waived shipping restrictions under the Jones Act in Puerto Rico to help reduce the cost of sending aid to the hurricane ravaged island.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders tweeted the news on Thursday morning, saying President Trump had authorized the waiver after a request from the island's governor, Ricardo Rossello.

At @ricardorossello request, @POTUS has authorized the Jones Act be waived for Puerto Rico. It will go into effect immediately.

It was a switch from the president's comments on Wednesday, where he spoke against lifting the Jones Act because people in the shipping industry were against it.

"We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted," Trump said on Wednesday. "We have a lot of ships out there right now."

The Jones Act charges expensive tariffs for non US-flagged ships that deliver supplies between US ports.

Seven members of Congress had written a letter to the homeland secretary requesting that the Jones Act be lifted on Monday. Although it has been waived, Department of Homelands Security officials told reporters on Wednesday that the transport of fuel and other emergency supplies is being delayed because of damaged roads and infrastructure on the island itself.

"The most significant challenge is disruption to move within the island," an official said.

— Amber Jamieson

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Puerto Rico's Governor is asking US members of congress to help temporarily lift Jones Act restrictions

Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello has been reaching out to both Democrat and Republican members of Congress to ask them to push the Department of Homeland Security for a temporary suspension of the Jones Act to help relief efforts, a spokesperson for the governor told BuzzFeed News.

Rossello has received no commitments from US officials, but plans to keep reaching out to lawmakers in hopes the restrictions can be lifted, the spokesperson, Yennifer Álvarez, said.

"He's knocking on doors, but at this time, there are no promises," she said.

The Jones Act allows only US-flagged ships to conduct business between US ports, but the 97-year-old law was lifted temporarily after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma to help relief efforts in Texas and Florida.

According to Puerto Rican officials, the waiver could help the island receive fuel and other supplies needed to recover.

Álvarez said Puerto Rico, like Florida, received a seven-day suspension of the act after Hurricane Irma, but Rossello is looking for a longer lifting of restrictions because the damage caused by Hurricane Maria has been much more extensive.

Some members of congress, including Republican Sen. Jon McCain, have urged the Department of Homeland Security to lift the restrictions.

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, President Trump said his administration was "thinking about that" but that "people that work in the shipping industry" don't want the Jones Act lifted.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Thousands of tons of aid sat undistributed for days

When @ricardorossello told us there was food water & medicene sitting in the port of Puerto Rico, we went looking.…

Three thousand shipping containers filled with food, water, and medicine were stuck in a port on Puerto Rico for days, CBS reported on Wednesday.

Fuel shortages and communication problems have dogged the island since Hurricane Maria hit, and authorities had been unable to arrange for the aid to be distributed to the half million people it could help, CBS reported.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello told BuzzFeed News on Tuesday that one of the challenges of the disaster was that civil employees like bus drivers and police officers hadn't shown up to work as they dealt with blocked roads and destroyed homes.

"We need bus drivers and buses to deliver crates," he said.

More FEMA workers, US troops, and volunteers arrived on Wednesday for disaster relief. But Department of Homeland Security officials getting aid where it was needed remained a huge challenge.

“The most significant challenge is disruption to move within the island,” a DHS official told reporters earlier Wednesday.

—Claudia Koerner

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President's inaugural committee to donate $3 million to groups involved in hurricane relief

President Trump's inaugural committee will donate $3 million to charities assisting in hurricane relief efforts, CNN and The New York Times reported Wednesday.

The Salvation Army, American Red Cross, and Samaritan's Purse will each receive $1 million, according to a statement obtained by the two outlets by Thomas J. Barrack, chairman of the Presidential Inaugural Committee.

"The surplus of these privately donated funds will be put to great substantive use for relief victims throughout the heartbreaking regions of America impacted by the recent catastrophic disasters," Barrack told the Times in an email.

The committee raised more than $107 million for the committee, and officials had pledged leftover funds would be donated to charity.

In a story published two weeks ago, the Associated Press reported committee funds were used to redecorate the White House and the vice president's residence, but that no money had been donated to charity nearly eight months after the inauguration.

It was not clear how much money the committee still has has in its coffers.

Salvador Hernandez

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Trump said he won't waive restrictions for Puerto Rico because shipping industry doesn't want it lifted

President Trump told reporters he wasn't lifting Jones Act shipping restrictions that could help get much needed fuel, water, and other supplies to Puerto Rico because people in the shipping industry didn't want it lifted.

The Jones Act, which allows only US-flagged ships between US ports, was lifted after Hurricane Harvey and Irma struck Texas and Florida, helping the states receive needed supplies. Yet the restriction has not been lifted for Puerto Rico, where officials said infrastructure has been devastated by Hurricane Maria.

"We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people and a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted," Trump told reporters Wednesday. "We have a lot of ships out there right now."

On Tuesday, a Department of Homeland Security spokesman said that the agency had determined there were enough US vessels to move supplies into the island, and that the problem Puerto Rico was facing was port capacity.

"DHS can only waive for nat'l defense purposes," the spokesman said in a tweet.

But Trump's explanation to reporters suggested the president was instead making his decision off of the requests of industry leaders.

Some lawmakers, including Sen. John McCain, have asked DHS to lift the restriction.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Royal Caribbean is sending a cruise ship to help evacuation efforts in Puerto Rico

Royal Caribbean International has canceled a scheduled trip and will instead use the cruise ship for evacuation and humanitarian efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, the company announced.

The ship, Adventure of the Seas, is set to arrive in San Juan Wednesday, where it is expected to drop off supplies and pick up evacuees.

In a Facebook post, the company said it will also make port in St. Thomas and St. Croix of the US Virgin Islands, before taking people to Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

The company is offering full refunds for the canceled cruise.

The ship is scheduled to return to San Juan on Oct. 6 to prepare for another trip starting there.

Royal Caribbean used its ships earlier this month to help distribute supplies in the Caribbean after the region was also hit by hurricanes. On Sept. 15, the company used two ships to distribute supplies to St. Maarten and St. Thomas.

Salvador Hernandez

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Puerto Rico police make 36 arrests for looting and stealing as the island struggles with shortages

Puerto Rico police said Wednesday officers have arrested 36 people so far for looting and stealing as millions of the island's residents continue to struggle with shortages in food, water, and gasoline after Hurricane Maria.

In one video obtained by CNN, people were seen breaking through the glass of a supermarket door in San Juan before several people ran inside.

Reporter Rafael Romo said the store owner told him looters did not appear to be looking for food, but instead grabbed alcohol, cigarettes, and computers.

Looters set fire to a #PuertoRico Walgreens, Firefighters use flood water to douse flames. #Bomberos #SanJuan

At a Walgreens, in San Juan, firefighters responded to a fire inside after people took items from the store.

In an effort to save vital drinking water, firefighters used nearby floodwaters to put out the flames, NBC reporter Gadi Schwartz reported.

Puerto Rico Police Superintendent Michelle Hernandez told CNN another 60 people have been arrested for violating the mandatory curfew in the island.

Salvador Hernandez

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Cost of shipping not a valid legal reason to drop Jones Act, say DHS officials

The Trump administration says it has not refused a request to waive the Jones Act after Hurricane Maria, which adds shipping tariffs to foreign ships transporting supplies, but that cost of shipping isn't an approved legal reason anyway.

"Contrary to current reports, DHS has not denied any waiver request associated with Hurricane Maria," said a senior DHS official, on a media press call about the Jones Act and Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning.

On Monday, group of seven representatives, including New York's Nydia Velázquez and José Serrano, and Illinois' Luis Gutiérrez, sent a letter to the Department of Homeland Secretary, asking for the Jones Act to be waived:

The island is now facing an unprecedented uphill battle to rebuild its homes, businesses and communities. Temporarily loosening these requirements [the Jones Act] – for the express purpose of disaster recovery – will allow Puerto Rico to have more access to the oil needed for its power plants, food, medicines, clothing, and building supplies. Therefore, we request the Department of Homeland Security to provide a one-year comprehensive waiver of the Jones Act requirements for Puerto Rico.

Except, the open letter wasn't filed as a formal request. On Wednesday, the DHS decided to evaluate the request in an official capacity regardless of how it was filed.

The DHS officials told media that regardless of the Jones Act, the transport of fuel and other emergency supplies is not being delayed because of a lack of US-flagged ships (which is what the Jones Act covers) but instead because of damaged roads and transport on the island iteself.

"The most significant challenge is disruption to move within the island," said an official.

Officials also noted that the DHS' arms were tied when it comes to evaluating whether the Jones Act should be temporarily lifted, as it was for one week after Hurricane Harvey to help bring fuel and supplies to Florida and Puerto Rico.

"No one is denying that the cost might come down for cargo ships but we are not legally allowed to waive the Jones Act to make goods cheaper," noted one senior DHS official.

Instead, the only reason to waive shipping restrictions is for defense reasons, based on the current legalities of the Act as determined by Congress.

"It is not about cost, it is not about the economic implications, it is simply about national defense," said the official.

And the Department of Transport has to evaluate the request from congress representatives to see if there is a lack of US-flagged ships in the area.

"Of course we’re very concerned with the suffering in Puerto Rico. The federal government, DHS, FEMA and DoD, are leaning as far forward as possible to get as much assistance as quickly as possible," said an official.

"We’re very cognizant of the pain and suffering that is going on and we’re doing everything we can to alleviate that," the official added.

– Amber Jamieson

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Trump administration denies request to lift shipping restrictions for Puerto Rico

The Trump administration has denied a request to waive shipping restrictions to help get fuel, water, and other supplies to storm-ravaged Puerto Rico, despite granting similar requests to Texas and Florida in the wake of other hurricanes this month.

Several US representatives requested the waiver for Puerto Rico Monday, asking the Department of Homeland Security to temporarily exempt the territory from the Jones Act, which limits shipping between US ports to US-flagged vessels. The law, which is designed to promote domestic shipping industry, has occasionally been lifted to facilitate the movement of fuel and other goods during emergencies.

But though DHS waived the Jones Act during Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, it declined to do the same in Puerto Rico.

“DHS’s current assessment is that there are sufficient numbers of US-flagged vessels to move commodities to Puerto Rico,” DHS spokesperson David Lapan tweeted Tuesday night. “The limitation is port capacity to offload & transfer cargo, not vessel availability. + DHS can only waive for nat'l defense purposes.”

Puerto Rico has long criticized the Jones Act for increasing the price of goods — and by extension, the cost of living — on the island, arguing that the strict restrictions on shipping have damaged the island’s economy and contributed to its current financial straits. Studies have borne out this assessment, including a 2012 report from Puerto Rican economists that found the Jones Act cost the territory $17 billion between 1990 and 2010.

As Puerto Rico grapples with the immense devastation wrought by Hurricane Maria, even a temporary reprieve from the Jones Act would help relieve some of the economic pressure on the territory, said former Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno,

“Even at this stage in the recovery, a temporary waiver on the Jones Act, to bring in all the necessary assets to save lives, should be allowed,” Fortuno told BuzzFeed News. “It doesn’t make sense to do otherwise.”

In a statement Tuesday evening, US Sen. John McCain — a longtime critic of the Jones Act — called on DHS to rethink its decision regarding Puerto Rico, and to assess how a long-term waiver, or full repeal, of the law would impact other areas damaged by this season’s hurricanes.

“It is unacceptable to force the people of Puerto Rico to pay at least twice as much for food, clean drinking water, supplies and infrastructure due to Jones Act requirements as they work to recover from this disaster,” McCain said. “Now, more than ever, it is time to realize the devastating effect of this policy and implement a full repeal of this archaic and burdensome act.”

—Grace Wyler

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Pitbull reportedly lent his private plane to transfer cancer patients out of Puerto Rico

Rapper Pitbull reportedly lent his private plane to Hurricane Maria relief efforts, using it to transport cancer patients out of Puerto Rico so they can continue their treatment in the US.

Congresswoman Jennifer González, who represents Puerto Rico, thanked the performer in a tweet in Spanish Tuesday.

"Thank you to the singer @pitbull for lending his private plane to transfer cancer patients from PR to USA so they could undergo chemo," the tweet read. The tweet was then retweeted by Puerto Rico's Department of Health.

In an interview with E! News, Pitbull said he was "just doing my part."

"Thank God we're blessed to help," he said.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Nearly 1.5 million in Puerto Rico lack drinking water

Almost 1.5 million people lacked drinking water and infrastructure remained crippled in Puerto Rico Tuesday as the devastation from Hurricane Maria continues.

In a report, the Department of Defense outlined the harrowing situation in the US territory, which was slammed last week while Maria was still a category 4 storm. Roughly 44% of the island's 3.4 million people were without potable water Tuesday, the report stated, while the local power grid suffered damage to "80% of the transmission system and 100% of the distribution system."

The report also revealed that only 11 of 69 hospitals had fuel or power. Domingo Cruz Vivaldi, executive director of San Jorge Children's Hospital in San Juan, told CNN that the facility was facing a "crisis right now" over fuel.

Read more here.

—Jim Dalrymple II

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No oxygen, no cash, no food: life after Maria

Life in Puerto Rico is very difficult for Puerto Ricans trying to rebuild their lives, with little gas, little food in supermarkets, and few medical facilities open.

The medical situation has proved especially difficult, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said.

"We are finding dialysis patients that have not been able to contact their providers. We are having to transport them in near-death conditions," Cruz told CNN. "We are finding people whose oxygen tanks are running out, because our small generators now don't have any diesel, and disabled people, they live alone and can't just walk somewhere."

"Every time we find a person that is gasping for air — I am not painting a poetic picture, I am telling you I have seen them and held them in my arms — and helped them into an ambulance, and every time we do that we get a little frail, and of course we get a little afraid," she added. "But we also get a lot more resolve to push on and move on and to do whatever — our bodies are so tired, but our souls are so full of strength that we will get to everyone we can get to."

People were also lining up to try and get cash from ATM machines.

Longest line I've seen yet to withdraw cash from an ATM in San Juan, Puerto Rico. #Maria @nytimes

Many roads also remained covered in trees and debris.

This is what rural streets still look like in PR, imagine having a medical emergency people can't reach hospitals…

And days after Maria left Puerto Rico, families are still reuniting for the first time.

Finally made it to that mountain top & Jackie found her family!! Great to see the anxiety wash away & witness this…

— Amber Jamieson

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Puerto Rico will be reimbursed by US for all its reconstruction efforts during first 180 days

President Trump on Tuesday approved an order to reimburse Puerto Rico during the first 180 days as the island struggles to deal with the aftermath and destruction of Hurricane Maria.

States and US territories typically cover 25% of disaster response costs, but Puerto Rico's economy was already under extreme duress prior to the hurricane.

Trump's order will be part of an increased financial and physical presence of the US after Puerto Rico's infrastructure was devastated by the storm, Brock Long, administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) told reporters at the White House.

The US Army Corps of Engineers, for example, has been sent to the island to help rebuild its electrical grid, which was destroyed by the storm.

"The power workers, the first responders, are also survivors at this point," Long said.

Thousands of soldiers have also been deployed to Puerto Rico to assist in recovery efforts, which includes reestablishing airports, seaports, and roads in order to distribute aid across the island, Long said.

FEMA already has 4 million meals on the island, as well as 6 million liters of water to distribute, he added.

Elaine Duke, acting Secretary for the Department of Homeland, said Trump's order to reimburse Puerto Rico will also help local government officials in their response, though she did not offer specifics on how Puerto Rico, which was already reeling from an economic crisis before the storm hit, might deal with reconstruction over the long term.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Trump defends Puerto Rico hurricane response

President Trump on Tuesday defended the his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico amid criticism that he doesn't appear to taking it as seriously as hurricanes that hit Texas and Florida.

"Everybody has said what a job we're doing in Puerto Rico, they're very proud of it," Trump said a joint press conference with Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy. "We have had tremendous reviews from government officials ... this morning, the governor made incredible statements about how well we're doing."

Puerto Rican officials, however, have warned about how desperately the island needs urgent and long-term assistance.

"This is the biggest catastrophe in Puerto Rican history," Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosello told ABC News. "If we don't get unprecedented collaboration from the federal government here, this could collapse into a humanitarian crisis."

And on Tuesday, Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, said federal bureaucracy was slowing aid efforts.

"FEMA is great, but if they’re not allowed to do their job, if the chain of command is hindering them, if they need memos in order to process what they are seeing on the TV, on electronic networks and so forth, then you are tying their hands to their back," she told CBS.

During his White House press conference, Trump echoed his earlier comments that it is harder for aid to reach Puerto Rico because of its location.

"Frankly, it is the most difficult job. It is on an island in the middle of the ocean. You can't just drive your truck there from the other states," he said. "This isn't like Florida where we can go right up the middle ... this is a thing called the Atlantic Ocean. It's tough stuff."

When asked if he had focused on NFL protests at the expense of Puerto Rico, Trump disagreed.

"To me, the NFL situation is a very important situation. Was I preoccupied? Not at all," he said. "I have plenty of time on my hands. All I do is work."

Trump began the press conference by addressing the devastation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, noting: "Both have been devastated, and I mean absolutely devastated, by Hurricane Maria and we're doing everything in our power to then hard hit people of both places, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands."

"A massive effort is underway and we have been really treated very, very nicely by the governor and by everybody else. They know how hard we're working and what a good job we're doing," Trump added.

The US has deployed Navy ships and is helping maintain security on the island, but that since the damage was so severe, recovery efforts will take a while, he said.

Puerto Rico is "a complete wipeout," Trump said. "This was a place which was destroyed."

—Amber Jamieson

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Scientists are trying to rescue 1,500 monkeys in Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria smashed headfirst into an island off the coast of Puerto Rico, Cayo Santiago, home to 1,500 research monkeys.

Scientists are now trying to help staffers wiped out by the storm, and get fresh water to the island for the stranded macaque monkeys, studied for decades on the island.

The monkeys live in six social groups on the island, which is uninhabited by people. Monkeys from all six groups have been observed after the storm, "living their normal monkey lives," Yale psychologist Laurie Santos, who heads one animal cognition project team on the island, told BuzzFeed News.

"The good news is that the monkeys seem to have got through the storm," Santos said. "The bad news is that pretty much everything else has been wiped out there."

Read more here.

—Dan Vergano

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Congressman Gutierrez on Puerto Rico: "We need an effort the scale of Dunkirk"

"No, Mr. President, Puerto Rico is not doing well," declared Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez during a speech on the floor of Congress on Tuesday.

Referring to the World War II evacuation of Allied soldiers from the beach of Dunkirk, France, using vessels including small everyday fishing boats, Guiterrez added: "We need an effort the scale of Dunkirk."

"We need the federal government to go all in to rescue Puerto Rico from a humanitarian crisis, which is developing," said Guiterrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent.

He added that he does not think the federal government is not stepping up as quickly and fully as it should be.

"We all know that flooding destruction and complete elimination of the power grid for the whole island are among the consequences of Hurricane Maria. But this is no ordinary hurricane and it hit at no ordinary time," said Guiterrez, referencing the huge economic and debt issues the island has been facing for years.

View this video on YouTube

Guiterrez told Congress that in addition to immediate relief, such as food and fuel, the island needs long-term investment to rebuild.

"Like a lot of Americans, I have watched with increasing horror and panic as the governor of Puerto Rico, the mayor of San Juan, and ordinary Puerto Ricans have pleaded for more help," he said.

More than 5,000 local doctors have left Puerto Rico in the last 10 years to seek employment elsewhere, and hospitals do not have enough staff or fuel to handle the hurricane, he added.

He also called on the federal government to halt the Jones Act, which requires any foreign vessel bringing goods to Puerto Rico to be taxed, with those taxes passed on to local Puerto Ricans.

— Amber Jamieson

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Trump to visit "destroyed" Puerto Rico next Tuesday

President Donald Trump will travel to Puerto Rico next Tuesday to survey the island's extensive damage from Hurricane Maria, he announced.

"The island is devastated. I read this morning, it’s literally destroyed," said Trump, according to the pool report.

"The infrastructure is in bad shape, as you know, in Puerto Rico, before the storm and now in many cases it has no infrastructure. So you’re really starting from almost scratch," said Trump, noting that the island "needs a lot of money."

He also noted that Puerto Ricans, who are US citizens, "are important to all of us."

"I grew up in New York, so I know many people from Puerto Rico," said Trump.

Trump has received criticism that he's only tweeted about Puerto Rico, which may be without power and internet for months and will takes years to rebuild infrastructure, four times since the hurricane hit — while he's focused heavily on criticisms of professional athletes.

With airports damaged and no power, it has been difficult for the island to receive supplies such as food, water and medicine, but Trump said US federal authorities are now landing regularly with supplies.

“We have shipped massive amounts of food and water and supplies to Puerto Rico and we are continuing to do it on an hourly basis. But that island was hit as hard as you could hit. When you see 200 mile-an-hour winds, not even Texas had 200 mile-an-hour winds l.. literally houses are just demolished, it was like tornadoes. It was like having hundreds of tornadoes," said Trump.

Hurricane Maria hit the island last Tuesday, meaning it will be two weeks before the president's visit.

Trump said next week is the earliest he will be able to travel there because of the damage, according to the pool report.

“We’ve gotten A-pluses on Texas and in Florida, and we will also on Puerto Rico. But the difference is this is an island sitting in the middle of an ocean. It’s a big ocean, it’s a very big ocean. And we’re doing a really good job,” said the president.

Trump may also stop in the US Virgin Islands, which was also hit hard by Maria, he added.

— Amber Jamieson

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This woman with family in Puerto Rico @-ed Trump about his response

Irelis Suarez, a 24-year-old based in Miami, has family who went through Maria in Puerto Rico.

“We have family who lost their houses,” she told BuzzFeed News via Twitter message. “Entire neighborhoods and towns destroyed. These are people's lives.”

“Puerto Ricans usually stay wherever they're from and most of these towns can be traced back to families for generations and generations,” she added. “It's not just material things. It's their entire lives.”

Since his Friday rally, Trump has tweeted about the US territory that has undergone a major hurricane 4 times and about sports 20 times.

Suarez @-ed the president on Monday night about his response to the crisis.

"Puerto Ricans are facing being without power for 4-6 months and instead of finding solutions to AMERICAN CITIZENS being without power he's criticizing them instead and talking about the NFL,” Suarez said.

She called the situation “frustrating.”

“People are suffering,” she said. “American citizens are suffering. And because it's a territory and not a state their lives don't matter? I bet if we were an oil gold mine this would be a very different conversation.”

—Remy Smidt

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Trump says Puerto Rico "is in deep trouble"

Facing louder criticism that his administration's response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico was not up to par with earlier hurricanes that struck Texas and Florida, President Trump on Monday took to Twitter to highlight the island's plight.

Texas & Florida are doing great but Puerto Rico, which was already suffering from broken infrastructure & massive debt, is in deep trouble..

...It's old electrical grid, which was in terrible shape, was devastated. Much of the Island was destroyed, with billions of dollars....

...owed to Wall Street and the banks which, sadly, must be dealt with. Food, water and medical are top priorities - and doing well. #FEMA

Hurricane Maria hit the islands as a powerful Category 4 storm, decimating infrastructure and leaving many of the more than 3.4 million US citizens without power, communications, or access to food, water, and fuel. Officials have warned that it could take more than a month to restore electrical power, and a decade to rebuild the infrastructure.

Trump hadn't tweeted about the hurricane since last week, prompting concerns that disaster relief on the island was being treated as a highest priority.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello publicly urged Americans to not forget "this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens." And New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat whose district has a large Puerto Rican population, told BuzzFeed News she was concerned there were too many issues on Washington's plate.

“I have a concern that given the priorities that we have that this doesn’t rank in terms of the issues that we need to address,” she said.

But on Monday, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president was focused on Puerto Rico's recovery, despite engaging in a Twitter war with pro-sports players protesting during the national anthem.

"This president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day," she said.

On Tuesday morning the president thanked the mayor of San Juan for her "kind words on FEMA" adding that "we are working hard."

Thank you to Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, for your kind words on FEMA etc.We are working hard. Much food and water there/on way

—Jason Wells

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Congress may not act on funding for the crisis in Puerto Rico until mid-October

As Puerto Rico struggles in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, which left much of the island without power and 95% of its cellular sites out of service, some members of Congress are working to address the crisis and are worried it isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Members of Congress returned to Washington Monday after several days’ worth of devastating stories from the island, following the category-four storm. But after Congress raced to pass additional funding to deal with Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which caused severe damage in Texas, Louisiana, Florida and Georgia — as well as Puerto Rico — some members of Congress worry that this new storm isn’t being met with the same urgency.

“I have a concern that given the priorities that we have that this doesn’t rank in terms of the issues that we need to address,” New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez, a Democrat whose district has a large Puerto Rican population, told BuzzFeed News. “People are talking about tax reform and how much that will cost, debt ceiling, and the budget. So there are many conflicting issues right now.”

Read more here.

—Lissandra Villa

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Death toll in Puerto Rico climbs to 16 people

At least 16 people have died in Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Maria, officials announced Monday.

Gov. Ricardo Rossello confirmed the new death toll, which has been climbing steadily since the storm passed over the island, the Associated Press reported. Across the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria has killed at last 49 people, the AP added.

The storm caused widespread devastation across Puerto Rico, but Rosello reportedly said Monday that he had been in touch with mayors on the island and was working to get food and water to areas that were cut off.

— Jim Dalrymple II

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White House says Trump is handling Puerto Rico disaster even though he's not tweeting about it

President Donald Trump may have spent his weekend tweeting repeatedly against NFL players who kneel during the national anthem to protest police brutality — sparking condemnation from top athletes and coaches, and inflaming yet another culture war across the US — but the White House insists he's still focused on the disaster in Puerto Rico.

"It really doesn't take out that long to type out 140 characters," Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Monday, "and this president is very capable of doing more than one thing at a time and more than one thing in a day."

Since Saturday morning, the president has tweeted or retweeted some 17 posts about the sports world or athletes kneeling. He hasn't tweeted about the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico since Wednesday.

Read more here.

—David Mack

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Flyover images capture "SOS we need food/water" written on a street in a destroyed Puerto Rican neighborhood

This heartbreaking message is from our flyover of #PuntaSantiago. #Humacao #PuertoRico needs a bigger response, & i…

James Higham, an anthropology professor at New York University, told BuzzFeed News that he chartered a helicopter on Sunday to go check on Maria's devastation to Puerto Rico's well-known "monkey island," Cayo Santiago.

Angelina Ruiz-Lambides, his colleague at Cayo Santiago and scientist at the University of Puerto Rico, snapped the photograph as she was flying over Humacao, an area on the eastern coast of Puerto Rico that sustained significant damage after Maria pummeled the island.

"#PuertoRico needs a bigger response, & it needs it now," their tweet read.

A number of Higham's colleagues are "facing extreme day-to-day challenges including lack of basic supplies, food, and water," according to a Gofundme page.

Brianna Sacks

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Satellite photos show lack of power in Puerto Rico

Satellite night images of #PuertoRico. #HurricaneMaria knocked out power grid, millions without electricity. More @…

Satellite photos by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration show the extent to which Puerto Rico is in darkness following Hurricane Maria.

The two photos taken before and after the storm show large swathes of the territory without electricity.

Authorities have said it may take up to six months to completely restore power.

—David Mack

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Puerto Rico governor: "People cannot forget we are US citizens"

Pleading for federal help for his constituents, Gov. Ricardo Rossello urged Americans to not forgot that those struggling in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico are US citizens.

Rossello noted there had been an "tremendous outpour of solidarity" from people across the country in response to what he called "an unprecedented disaster."

"But make no mistake — this is a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million US citizens," he said. "We will need the full support of the US government. People cannot forget that we are US citizens — and proud of it."

In a direct plea on Twitter to Speaker Paul Ryan, Rossello wrote, ".@SpeakerRyan: We will need all your support as we rebuild rebuild #PuertoRico."

—David Mack

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Authorities have extended curfew in Puerto Rico "indefinitely"

Toque de queda se extiende indefinidamente. #PRSeLevanta

The Treasury Department of Puerto Rico said on Twitter Monday that an official curfew of 7 pm to 5 am has been extended indefinitely and that all citizens must be inside their homes for those hours.

-- Cora Lewis

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Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA Administrator Brock Long are on the ground in Puerto Rico

Homeland Security Adviser Tom Bossert and FEMA Administrator Brock Long visited Puerto Rico Monday to assess the island's needs and consult with Gov. Ricardo Rossello on next steps for recovery there. Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida also attended meetings with the White House staff and governor on the ground.

Discussing with @FEMA_Brock and @TomBossert45 areas of urgent need to coordinate additional federal resources.…

Today @MarcoRubio visited @DistritoPR to make himself available to address the needs of the people of PR and help i…

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders pointed to the visits of Bossert and Long as evidence of White House's attention to the ongoing crisis on the island.

"The federal response has been great," she said. "Tom Bossert and Brock Long are on the ground today to do a more thorough and deeper assessment of what needs there are."

Sanders said the White House was still in the "fact-finding process" to determine what resources are required for recovery.

"Once you have a greater insight into the full assessment of damage, they will be able to determine what additional funds are needed," she said.

Asked what message President Trump was sending to the country by tweeting about the protests in the NFL and criticizing athletes instead of speaking about Puerto Rico, Sanders said that the White House has "done unprecedented movement in terms of federal funding to provide for the people of Puerto Rico and others that have been impacted by the storms."

"We'll continue to do so and continue to do everything that we can possibly under the federal government," she said.

-- Cora Lewis

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These photos show just how bad it's gotten in Puerto Rico

From traffic jams on a expressway blocked by a flooded river in Yauco, to grocery store lines wrapping an entire block in San Juan, the misery in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria has become all-consuming on the ravaged island.

For photos, go here.

—Gabriel H. Sanchez

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Former President George H. W. Bush expands his foundation's relief efforts to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands

A fundraising effort headed by the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library Foundation will extend its aid to the Caribbean following the devastating impact of Hurricane Maria, the foundation said in a release Monday.

"Responding to urgent, widespread need in the midst of a catastrophic hurricane season, the 'One America Appeal' today announced their efforts will also aid the recovery from Hurricane Maria," the release read.

Funds will be channeled to organizations Unidos Por Puerto Rico and the Fund for the Virgin Islands.

Individuals, foundations, and institutions donating to One America Appeal may now assist recovery efforts from Hurricanes Harvey in Texas, Irma in Florida, and Maria in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, or to direct their donation to a specific recovery effort.

Unidos Por Puerto Rico, or United for Puerto Rico, is an organization staffed by volunteers and managed by the Office of the First Lady of Puerto Rico, focused on meeting the immediate emergency needs of citizens, with a plan to next support the rebuilding of homes and community facilities. The Fund for the Virgin Islands was established by the Community Foundation of the Virgin Islands, a nonprofit organization that has supported relief efforts in the region for 25 years.

The former president joins Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo in organizing additional relief for the islands, as well as Puerto Rican celebrities including Pulitzer Prize winner Lin-Manuel Miranda and singer Jennifer Lopez.

Former president Bill Clinton also tweeted Monday in support of the citizens in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, stating they "need our help now."

Our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in peril. They need our help now.

—Cora Lewis

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Paul Ryan says Congress is working to get Puerto Rico the resources it needs

Following a plea from the Governor of Puerto Rico that members of congress take swift action to help the people of Puerto Rico, Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said on Twitter that congress is "working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to our fellow citizens in #PuertoRico."

Congress is working with the administration to ensure necessary resources get to our fellow citizens in #PuertoRico.

The congressman called the stories and images coming out of the US territory "devastating." Officials predict it will take months to restore power and telecom services.

—Cora Lewis

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Governor of Puerto Rico: "We're going to need a lot of help"

Ricardo Rossello, Governor of Puerto Rico, called the situation on the island "an unfolding humanitarian crisis" in an interview with Fox News Monday.

"The devastation is vast and we're going to need a lot of help," he said, describing the destruction of infrastructure, including damage to the energy and telecom grids, as "unprecedented."

“This would be a humanitarian crisis in the United States,” he said. "Puerto Rico is in the United States... I ask for congresspeople to take swift action."

Rossello also urged Congress and the American people to remember that Puerto Ricans are "proud US citizens."

He told CBS News reporter, David Begnaud, that Puerto Rico rescued nearly 4,000 US citizens during Hurricane Irma.

"We were the beacon of hope, even though we were hard hit by Irma," Rossello said.

He said that having two Category 5 hurricanes back-to-back was "unprecedented" anywhere in the world and that the "devastation has been severe."

"This is a major, major disaster," he said.

Rossello said that the island's fiscal troubles also need to be taken into consideration, asking that the Federal Reserve Bank and US Treasury "find ways to give financing at proper rates to Puerto Rico so we can push forward."

"My ask is very clear: the people of Puerto Rico need the level of funding that is appropriate as U.S. citizens," he said.

— Cora Lewis and Tasneem Nashrulla

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Hamilton creater Lin-Manuel Miranda is raising funds for Puerto Rico

Lin-Manuel Miranda, creator of the mega-hit musical Hamilton and the son of Puerto Rican parents, is raising funds for the U.S. territory, marshaling support of other singers and celebrities of Puerto Rican descent.

Miranda has been sharing stories of the disaster since it struck on the heels of Hurricane Irma, including one that described "not one electric pole standing, no traffic lights, cars upside down, flooding, landslides, houses and apartment buildings without roofs, windows; large debris everywhere, people walking like zombies, not a single tree with leaves on them, just sticks."

In the same tweet, the Pulitzer-Prize-winner quoted founding father Alexander Hamilton's description of a hurricane that swept through his hometown island of St. Croix in 1772, with force "sufficient to strike astonishment into angels."

—Cora Lewis

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State of emergency issued in Hyde County in North Carolina

Hurricane Maria is weakening and is forecast to weaken to a Tropical Storm by Tuesday night. Tropical Storm Watche…

An island on North Carolina's Outer Banks has issued a mandatory evacuation notice to all visitors on Ocracoke.

The Hyde County Sheriff's announced the state of emergency and evacuation order on Sunday. Evacuation of the island was to begin at 5 am Monday.

"Direct impacts from the storm include tropical storm force winds and storm surge of 2-4 feet along the Outer Banks," the statement said.

—Alicia Melville-Smith

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Evacuations ordered in North Carolina as Maria heads toward US East Coast

A tropical storm watch was issued for the North Carolina coast Sunday night, as Maria continues its path up the Atlantic coast. Though the storm is expected to pass well to the east of the southeastern United States, officials in at least one county in North Carolina have already issued mandatory evacuation orders in advance of Maria’s expected impact on the state’s coast.

According to the National Hurricane Center, the state could experience tropical storm force winds and a storm surge of between two and four feet beginning early Tuesday.

Officials in Hyde County, North Carolina, declared a state of emergency late Sunday, and issued a mandatory evacuation order for all visitors to Ocrakoke Island, in the Outer Banks, that will go into effect at 5 a.m. Monday.

“Based on current forecast holds, wind speeds could cause the suspension of ferry services early Tuesday morning, potentially making Monday night the last runs available,” the county said in a statement. “Decisive action is necessary for Ocracoke visitors to insure you arrive at your destination safely.”

On the bright side, forecasts show that Hurricane Maria is weakening, with sustained wind speeds of 80 miles per hour, and is expected to be downgraded to a tropical storm by Tuesday. —Grace Wyler

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Hillary Clinton urged the president, Secretary of Defence Mattis and Department of Defence to help Puerto Rico

President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These a…

As Puerto Rico continues to suffer debilitating damage to its homes, people and infrastructure from the hurricane, former presidential candidate and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged President Trump to do more.

"President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now," Clinton wrote in a tweet on Sunday. "These are American citizens."

USNS Comfort is a United States Navy ship that does not serve in battle, and is, by-and-large, a floating field hospital.

— Talal Ansari

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Puerto Ricans turn to each other without power and cell services

As Hurricane Maria left the island shellshocked, without power, and with 95% of the island’s cellular sites out of service, Puerto Ricans have tried to steel themselves against the reality that food, water, gasoline and fuel for generators will be hard to come by. But it is the inability to reach family members on the island and the mainland that has left them in despair.

"This is Katrina," said Andres Lopez, a Democratic donor and lawyer, noting that the aftermath will be as devastating in terms of force and damage for the 3.5 million U.S. citizens on the island, as it was after the hurricane that roiled New Orleans in 2005. Lopez said that while he lives in San Juan's Miramar neighborhood, an area that hasn't completely lost cell service, the same can not be said for so many residents.

Read more about how Puerto Ricans struggle to reach loves ones in and outside of the island here.

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Evacuations underway in Puerto Rico after dam failure causes "extremely dangerous situation"

215PM FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY for A Dam Failure in Isabela Municipality y Quebradillas Municipality in Puerto Rico...…

The Guajataca dam located above the municipalities of Quebradillas and Isabella in Puerto Rico began failing Friday afternoon, prompting officials to issue a flash flood emergency for the area and ordering the evacuation of 70,000 people in the area.

Dam operators reported that the dam was failing, causing flash flooding downstream on the Rio Guajataca, National Weather Service forecasters said.

"This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION," the NWS warned, adding that buses were evacuating people from the area as quickly as possible.

This is an EXTREMELY DANGEROUS SITUATION. Busses are currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can #prwx

Officials warned everyone near the Guajataca River to evacuate.

All Areas surrounding the Guajataca River should evacuate NOW. Their lives are in DANGER! Please SHARE! #prwx

"Move to higher ground now," the NWS said in a bulletin. "This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation."

Authorities issued an evacuation order for Isabelle and Quebradillas, and warned residents not to attempt to travel unless they were fleeing a flooded area or were subject to an evacuation order.

"Act quickly to protect your life," the NWS said.

— Tasneem Nashrulla

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Maria passes by the Turks and Caicos with winds of up to 125 mph, as Puerto Rico sees more rain

Hurricane Maria was passing northeast of the Turks and Caicos island late Friday morning, the National Hurricane Cente (NHC) said, producing winds of up to 125 miles per hour.

A hurricane warning is in effect for the British overseas territory, with the massive category 3 storm about 55 miles, or 90 kilometers, north of the main island of Grand Turk.

"Even though Maria's eye has become cloud filled since the previous advisory, reconnaissance data indicate that the hurricane has not weakened," the NHC said in its latest advisory.

The southeastern Bahamas is also under a hurricane warning, with the storm's core expected to move past there through Sunday. "Preparations to protect life and property should be rushed to completion," the NHC advised.

The storm is expected to bring 8-16 inches of rain to the Turks and Caicos through Saturday, wreaking further havoc on the islands which had been left devastated by Hurricane Irma earlier this month.

More rain is also expected in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic.

"Flash flooding continues in portions of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic due to persistent heavy rainfall from Maria's trailing rainbands," the NHC said. "Continue to follow advice from local officials to avoid these life-threatening flooding conditions."

Swells from the storm are also beginning to reach the southeastern US, bringing dangerous surf conditions and life-threatening rip currents.

"Maria will be closer to the east coast of the United States and Bermuda by the middle of next week, but it is too soon to determine what, if any, direct impacts there might be in these areas," the NHC said.

—David Mack

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13 people have died in Puerto Rico, officials say

Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico said Friday that 13 people have died during Hurricane Maria and that FEMA has begun delivering military aid to get water, food, and generators to millions affected there. The entire island remains without power, though 700 people have been rescued, he said.

There are also reports of "complete devastation of vulnerable housing," Rosselló said, as rain continues to cause mudslides, surges, and flooding.

Friday, authorities plan to fly over the island to better assess damage to the power grid and see how transmission lines handled the storm, the governor added.

"If there is severe devastation in those transmission lines, it will take weeks and months to repair those," he said. But if the damage is less severe, the time frame will be shorter. Earlier estimates had said it would likely take between four and six months to restore energy to the island.

-- Cora Lewis

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Hurricane Maria restrengthens as it slowly moves toward the Turks and Caicos Islands

After losing strength over Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria has intensified in the Caribbean with 125 mph winds as it slowly moves toward the Turks and Caicos Islands.

The hurricane is expected to still drop another four to eight inches of rain on the already-soaked island of Puerto Rico while it crawls northwest at 8 mph, the National Hurricane Center said Thursday night.

"Maria is not in a hurry and is taking its time," the advisory from the center read.

But the slowly moving storm will still mean dangerous conditions for the Dominican Republic, which will see storm surge as much as six feet higher than normal.

The Bahamas and Turks and Caicos Islands could see waves as high as 12 feet, according to the National Hurricane Center.

—Salvador Hernandez

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Puerto Rico rebuilding could take more than 15 years to complete, governor's spokesman says

Not only did Puerto Rico's energy grid sustain such a severe hit that the entire US territory could be without power for months, the entire island's infrastructure might have to be rebuilt, Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló, told BuzzFeed News on Thursday.

"The state of the island is worse than we expected. The restoration of normal life in Puerto Rico is going to take a lot of time," he said. "We are going to have to start over in many ways. I've been told that it could take 10 to 15 years, or even longer, to complete."

Officials are just starting to try and assess the damage done by the historic storm, but Mercader expects it to be staggering.

"You have entire communities that have disappeared," he continued. "Areas where 80 to 90% of homes are destroyed. We can't even assess some areas yet because we can't get there because the roads are blocked or destroyed."

While water service is slowly being restored, 70% of people are still without drinking water and it's difficult to get resources and aid to the most stricken communities, he added.

One man died after he was struck by a board that had been ripped from its nails on a house by the wind, Mercarder confirmed, and he expects that number to rise since it's nearly impossible to track how many people have died or are missing due to the inability to communicate.

In the past two days, Mercarder's office has received 10,000 calls from people searching for friends and family. He has yet to hear from his own parents and siblings.

The island, he added, will likely need billions more than the $15 billion federal relief package Congress approved after Hurricane Harvey.

"The only word to describe Puerto Rico is devastation," he said.

—Brianna Sacks

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Mother and two children rescued from overturned boat

After being reported missing on Wednesday, a British Royal Navy helicopter crew on Thursday rescued a mother and her two children from an overturned boat near Vieques, Puerto Rico.

An adult male was reported dead in the capsized boat, which the US Coast Guard said had been inaccessible to the search and rescue crews.

The names of the people on the boat were not released. —Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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The US Coast Guard is searching for a missing boat with four people on board

#BreakingNews @USCG, @USNavy, @RoyalNavy searching for vessel near Vieques, #PuertoRico after #Hurricane #Maria >>

The US Coast Guard, Navy, and the British Royal Navy are searching for a boat that went missing near Vieques in Puerto Rico Wednesday.

Four people, including two adults and two children, were aboard the vessel named Ferrel, which lost communication with the Coast Guard on Wednesday.

Ferrel issued a radio beacon and then a distress call saying they were disabled and adrift. The names of the people onboard the missing boat were not released.

—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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At least 15 people dead and 20 missing on Dominica

Dominica's prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said 15 people have been killed and 20 remain missing in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

In an interview with a reporter on Antigua, Skeritt said Dominica is "going to need all the help the world has to offer."

Search and rescue operations are underway, providing relief including food and water to much of the country where homes are no longer standing, Skeritt said.

The prime minister said the island was "devastated" and remains without power, including the main hospital.

"We're running the hospital worse than in a war zone," Skeritt said.

—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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Trump says he'll visit Puerto Rico after Maria

JUST IN: President Trump says he'll visit Puerto Rico in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Speaking at the United Nations on Thursday, President Trump told reporters he would visit Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria, saying the island is in "very, very tough shape."

"Mr. President, will you visit Puerto Rico?" a reporter asked.

"Yes, I will," Trump replied.

The president visited Texas after Hurricane Harvey and Florida after Hurricane Irma. There is no set time for when Trump might visit Puerto Rico, the White House said in a statement.

"We want to be respectful of the recovery efforts and not disrupt them but we are in regular contact with state and local officials and when it's determined appropriate he will travel there," a White House spokesperson said.

"Puerto Rico was absolutely obliterated," Trump said Thursday. "Puerto Rico got hit with winds they say they’ve never seen winds like this anywhere."

Trump said he will work with the governor to help Puerto Rico, which had its electrical grid destroyed.

"It's in very, very, very perilous shape," Trump said of the island. "Very sad what happened to Puerto Rico."

Gov. Kenneth Mapp of the US Virgin Islands told reporters on Sept. 11 that Trump had told him he would visit the territory "in the next six or seven days" after Hurricane Irma wrought havoc there. The White House is still yet to schedule a visit.

—David Mack and Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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Puerto Rico could be without power for four to six months following Maria

Millions of Puerto Ricans may be facing up to six months without power due to the damage caused by Hurricane Maria.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz told MSNBC the devastation in the capital was unlike anything she had ever witnessed,

"The San Juan that we knew yesterday is no longer there," Cruz said. "We're looking at 4 to 6 months without electricity."

And Felix Delgado, mayor of the coastal city of Catano, told the Associated Press: "Months and months and months and months are going to pass before we can recover from this."

Puerto Rico's electricity infrastructure has been struggling for some time. The grid was in urgent need of maintenance before Maria hit and the power company responsible had defaulted on a debt-restructuring deal in July, according to MSNBC.

As a result of the widespread damage, President Donald Trump authorized federal assistance to assist with rebuilding efforts.

"Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster," the White House said in a statement.

—Alicia Melville-Smith

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Hurricane Maria has regained strength as it heads towards the Dominican Republic

Maria has officially become a major hurricane again, regaining its Category 3 status as it continues its path towards the Dominican Republic, the latest update from the National Hurricane Center read early on Thursday morning.

Maximum sustained winds have increased to 115 mph, with the eye of the storm about 55 miles northeast of Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, as of 2 a.m. ET.

Torrential rains continue to fall on Puerto Rico as the storm moves away, and will pass offshore near the Dominican Republic's northeastern coast later on Thursday morning.

The storm is then expected to move towards the Irma-hit Turks and Caicos Islands and the southeastern Bahamas on Thursday evening and Friday.

—Francis Whittaker

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One hurricane fatality has been reported in Puerto Rico

Officials in Puerto Rico have received reports of one hurricane-related death in Puerto Rico, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said Wednesday, though emergency responders have not yet been able to assess Maria's impact on the island and its residents.

The death was reported in one of Puerto Rico's municipalities, Rossello told CNN's Anderson Cooper. "One of the boards that was used to prevent the winds from affecting a home flew out and hit a gentleman," he said. "We still don't have a lot of information."

Rosello also confirmed that the entire territory is still without power, and warned that it could take "months as opposed to weeks or days" to restore electricity. Officials do not yet know the extent of the damage to the island's infrastructure, he added, but it is expected to be "severe."

—Grace Wyler

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Damage to Puerto Rico's infrastructure will be "without precedent," officials say

While the eye of Hurricane Maria has left Puerto Rico, powerful winds and intense rains are still pounding the island and further damaging its already crippled infrastructure.

The US territory, home to about 3.4 million people, is 100% without power and officials expect the island to remain in the dark for months, explaining that the damage to its energy grid, roads, and city infrastructure will be "unprecedented."

"Puerto Rico is still experiencing Hurricane Maria's devastating effects. Once the weather improves, we will begin assessing the extent of the damages," Carlos Mercader, a spokesman for Puerto Rico's governor, told BuzzFeed News Wednesday afternoon. "Unfortunately, due to its intensity, damages will most likely be without precedent."

Mercarder told CNN that in terms of infrastructure, Puerto Rico "will never be the same."

About 70% of residents are without water, the spokesman said on NPR late Wednesday night, and its hospital is running on generators.

Irma, which sideswiped the island earlier this month, caused a billion dollars worth of damage and Mercarder said he expects that number to grow drastically.

"For too long we were getting hit with catastrophic conditions, so multiply that billion by 10, 20, I don't know," he told NPR. "It was that kind of storm."

Puerto Rico's governor, Ricardo Rossello, has enacted a nightly curfew, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., starting Wednesday evening and lasting until Saturday morning.

"The danger continues - there is a flood warning for ALL Puerto Rico," Rossello wrote on Facebook. "Stay in safe places."

—Brianna Sacks

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Puerto Rico was totally screwed even before Hurricane Maria

Long before it started feeling the fury of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico had already been hit by a decade-long economic disaster that led this year to a form of bankruptcy for the US territory.

The island is strapped for cash, owes huge amounts to lenders that it cannot pay, and has seen its professional classes move to the mainland — and now it will have to grapple with the costly damage from the storm that was lashing across its population centers on Wednesday.

Since 2004, the island's population has fallen, from 3.8 million to about 3.4 million in 2016, as residents left to seek greater economic opportunity. More than 300,000 people left Puerto Rico between 2005 and 2010 alone, according to the Treasury Department.

Read more here.

—Matthew Zeitlin

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Mayor of a Puerto Rican city says 80% of homes in the area are destroyed

Felix Delgado, the mayor of Cataño in the northern part of Puerto Rico, told WAPA Television that 80% of residences in the Juana Matos area are destroyed, and most are flooded and are missing roofs as a group of rescuers are out assessing the full extent of the damage.

The entire island has lost electricity according to the Puerto Rico Office of Emergency Management.

Nine people have died in the Caribbean in the wake of Maria, according to the Associated Press.

—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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Officials say Dominica "has been devastated" by Maria

Facebook: video.php

A top adviser to Dominica's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit posted an update on Facebook Wednesday morning saying there was "tremendous loss" of housing and public buildings.

Hartley Henry said that many buildings that were serving as shelters have lost roofs and that the island's general hospital also "took a beating," compromising patient care.

"The urgent needs now are roofing materials for shelters, bedding supplies for hundreds stranded in or outside what's left of their homes and food and water drops for residents of outlying districts inaccessible at the moment," the statement reads.

Video shot by the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency shows the heavy damage the island suffered, including structures with missing roofs and debris.

Henry said that seven people were confirmed dead and that authorities fear the death toll will rise.

"The country is in a daze," he said, adding that there is no electricity, running water, or cell phone service in many parts of the island.

"In summary, the island has been devastated," Henry said.

—Mary Ann Georgantopoulos

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The eye of Hurricane Maria reaches Puerto Rico

The eye of Hurricane Maria is located over eastern Puerto Rico on Wednesday morning, bringing sustained winds of 150 mph and a possible storm surge of 6-9 feet.

"The combination of a dangerous storm surge and the tide will cause normally dry areas near the coast to be flooded by rising waters moving inland from the shoreline," reads the latest update from the National Hurricane Center.

A National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor in Puerto Rico reported a water level of 5.3 feet above "Mean Higher High Water" (the average daily high tide level).

The eye will continue to move across Puerto Rico and leave from the northern coast Wednesday afternoon, said the NHC.

A sustained wind of 81 mph (130 km/h) with a gust to 109 mph (175 km/h) was recently reported at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico. A sustained wind of 63 mph (101 km/h) with a gust to 118 mph (190 km/h) was recently reported at Camp Santiago, Puerto Rico.

A National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor recorded a water level of 5.3 feet above Mean Higher High Water around 8 a.m., a foot higher than a report earlier on Wednesday.

However the warnings for St. Martin and St. Barthelemy have been downgraded to a tropical storm warning.

Videos and photos of Puerto Rico getting hit by Maria are emerging, with CNN reporter Leyla Santiago being pulled by a colleague out of the strong winds while on live TV.

CNN’s @LeylaSantiago blown around in San Juan, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria makes landfall, packing 155 mph winds…

— Amber Jamieson

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Hurricane Maria makes landfall on Puerto Rico

The center of Hurricane Maria has made landfall near Yabucoa in Puerto Rico.

The National Hurricane Centre confirmed the storm reached Yabucoa at about 6.15 a.m. Wednesday with sustained winds of 60mph (96km/h) and wind gusts of up to 113mph (182km/h).

"A National Ocean Service tide gauge at Yabucoa Harbor, Puerto Rico, recently reported a water level of 4.3 ft above Mean Higher High Water (MHHW)," the NHC said.

Maria remains about 35 miles (55km) southeast of San Juan. —Alicia Melville-Smith

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Hurricane Maria downgraded to Category 4 storm as it makes landfall on Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria has been downgraded to a Category 4 storm Wednesday ahead of making landfall in Puerto Rico with maximum winds of 155mph.

In their 5am advisory, the National Hurricane Center the eye of the hurricane is about 50 miles (75km) southeast of San Juan.

"A west-northwest to northwest motion is expected to continue through today, followed by a northwestward motion on Thursday. On the forecast track the eye of Maria will make landfall in Puerto Rico in a couple of hours, cross Puerto Rico today, and pass just north of the northeast coast of the Dominican Republic tonight and Thursday," the NHC said.

—Alicia Melville-Smith

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Hurricane Maria makes landfall on the island of Vieques as it barrels toward Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria made landfall over the island of Vieques early Wednesday, with sustained winds of 110 miles per hour, according to National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The “potentially catastrophic” storm is expected to reach the main island of Puerto Rico around daybreak.

3:45 AM AST: Vieques sintiendo vientos máximos sostenidos sobre 110 mph. Manténganse en un lugar seguro! #prwx #ViequesPR #MariaPR

Early reports from Puerto Rico indicate that conditions worsening overnight, with high winds and rains lashing the island as Maria’s outer bands drew nearer. Gusts up to 83 mph were recorded in Fajardo, on the northeast side of the island, the National Hurricane Center said in a 4 a.m. update.

Winds really picking up now !! Pressure 979mb #HurricaneMaria #Fajardo

As the storm approached Wednesday, more than 10,000 people—and 189 pets—fled to shelters, heeding urgent warnings from officials to leave low-lying homes on the islands or risk death. By nightfall, more than 150,000 energy customers on the island had already lost power, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. —Grace Wyler

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After Hurricane Maria, some locations in the Caribbean "may be uninhabitable for weeks or months," according to the latest forecasts.

If forecast predictions for the storm are accurate, some "locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months," according to an advisory issued late Tuesday by the National Weather Service in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The notice, issued late Tuesday, urged people in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to remain sheltered from life-threatening winds as the Category 5 storm neared the island of St. Croix.

Hurricane-force winds are forecast to batter the US Virgin Islands, Vieques, and Culebra through Wednesday afternoon; and the rest of Puerto Rico through Wednesday night. Officials warned that the conditions could tear roofs or walls off buildings, destroy mobile homes, and block roads, causing damage that could render parts of the territories uninhabitable.

Flooding, storm surges, and tornadoes are also expected to impact the islands, causing further damage to roads and waterways.

— Michelle Broder Van Dyke

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US Virgin Islands residents describe desperate situation ahead of Hurricane Maria

In the US Virgin Islands, residents describe a desperate situation ahead of Hurricane Maria. Like Puerto Rico, St. Croix was a destination for hundreds of traumatized and displaced people and helped funnel resources to its battered neighbors. Now, it stands helplessly in the way of a potentially stronger storm.

The eye of the storm is expected to move near or directly over St. Croix in the next few hours before crossing over Puerto Rico Wednesday, the National Hurricane Center said late Tuesday night.

"Both Islands have been critical staging points for relief for both us," Erin Kalafski, a scuba dive instructor who lives on St. Thomas, told BuzzFeed News. "It looks like we will all be starting over from day one."

Kalafski, whose home was damaged by Hurricane Irma, said Puerto Ricans have transported hundreds of people off her struggling island and "have been buying literal tons of supplies and transporting them on their own boats at their own expense."

"Lots of supplies have reached the island, but there is such an incredible need that it has been nowhere near enough," the 35-year-old said, describing a dire housing situation and hundreds of now displaced people living in shelters already damaged by Irma.

Irma took out the hospital on St. Thomas, the only one in the US Virgin Islands, along with the island's airport. Residents say while there is federal disaster relief aid, it's becoming scarce and hard to find.

"It's a struggle to even get canned goods," Noelle Olive, who has lived on St. Thomas her whole life and experienced three major hurricanes, told BuzzFeed News Tuesday.

She and Kalafski recounted standing in long lines only to come up empty-handed.

"They ran out of water and tarps quickly and it feels like they are hoarding the MRE's [meals ready to eat] because we might not have enough after this storm hits," Olive said.

—Brianna Sacks

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Puerto Rico prepares for the most potentially damaging storm in its modern history

Puerto Ricans are burrowed inside shelters, cement bunkers, and boarded-up houses as Hurricane Maria, a Category 5 storm still gathering strength, whirls toward the US territory.

"We have not experienced an event of this magnitude in our modern history," Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló said Tuesday ahead of the storm, warning residents that their island will most likely sustain monumental damage. About 500 shelters are set up around the island and, as of 8 p.m. more than 4,400 people, and 100 pets, are tucked inside.

"It's the biggest and potentially most catastrophic hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in a century," Rosselló said, explaining that the island could receive up to 25 inches of rain, as well as violent winds and storm surges, producing potentially life-threatening flooding and mudslides.

After Irma grazed Puerto Rico's northeast coast, about a million people were in the dark for days and large swaths of the territory are still not back online. Now with Maria poised to land right on top of the island, Rosello told NPR he expects the island's fragile energy system to collapse completely.

In the wake of Hurricane Irma, Puerto Rico had become an evacuation destination and vital resource center for the US Virgin Islands, which is struggling with major devastation after the storm hit about two weeks ago.

Thousands of people in both territories are still without power, homeless, and hungry, and uncleared debris and wreckage are strewn across neighborhoods and roadways, which will become dangerous projectiles when hit by Maria, which is clocking winds up to 175 mph.

David Samuels, who helped evacuate several friends from St. John five days after Irma hit, told BuzzFeed News Monday night that the friends are hunkering down in a cement bunker in Puerto Rico surrounded by homemade sandbags.

"We're in denial this is happening," Samuels, 41, said. "I'm still homeless. A lot of people took down boards from their homes and had to go and put them back up again."

Although residents had more time to prepare and stock up on food and water this time around, Samuels described a chaotic and frenzied scene as people lined up to get packaged food, gas for generators, and tarps for their already gaping homes.

"It was rough, yeah, but it was getting better. We were coming out of it," he said. "But Wednesday, we're going to get our asses kicked."

Brianna Sacks

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Maria becomes one of the most intense Atlantic hurricanes on record with 175 mph winds

Already a powerful Category 5 hurricane, Maria continues to strengthen as it barrels toward the US Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. As of 7 p.m. ET, the "extremely dangerous" storm was closing in on the island of St. Croix, which was spared the brunt of Irma's wrath earlier this month but now sits directly in Maria's path.

Maximum sustained winds have increased to 175 mph, the National Hurricane Center said in its latest advisory. Wind gusts of up to 63 mph were reported on St. Croix as residents bunker down in preparation for a potentially catastrophic event.

With a minimum central pressure of 909 mb, Maria is now one of the top ten most intense hurricanes on record in the Atlantic basin. The lower a storm's pressure is, the more powerful it becomes.

Brianna Sacks

Here's a list of lowest Atlantic pressure on record. #Maria at 909mb is lowest since Dean in 2007. All devastating…

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The first death has been attributed to Hurricane Maria after it slammed into the Eastern Caribbean island of Guadaloupe

The first death attributed to Hurricane Maria has been reported by officials on the French island of Guadaloupe, after slamming into the eastern Caribbean on Monday evening.

As of Tuesday morning the current category 5 hurricane is 150 miles southeast of the US Virgin Islands, with maximum sustained winds of 160 mph. Wind gusts are expected to be much higher as the hurricane makes it way northwest towards Puerto Rico. Maria is expected to "remain an extremely dangerous category 4 or 5 hurricane until it moves near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico," according to a Tuesday morning National Weather Service advisory.

The eye of Hurricane Maria is expected to "pass near or over the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday." A hurricane warning remains in effect for much of the Caribbean, including the US and British Virgin Islands, and the US territory of Puerto Rico. On Tuesday afternoon the Dominican Republic also issued a hurricane warning for most of the eastern portion of the island.

Maria transformed quickly from a tropical storm into a hurricane on Sunday, and in quick succession, a category 5 hurricane on Monday.

— Talal Ansari

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As Maria approaches, the Caribbean is still reeling from Irma

ROAD TOWN, BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS—Everything that could have gone wrong has gone wrong since Hurricane Irma slammed into the British Virgin Islands. Wandering around Tortola, the largest of the islands, the scale of the destruction is clear, even after a week of rebuilding.

Thousands of homes here have lost roofs and walls, revealing rooms containing the possessions of the displaced residents. Electricity and water services are patchy, while cables hang loose in the wind. It’s rare to see a building or a vehicle with all its windows intact.

Shipping containers have been left strewn across the road; aircraft were torn in half by the wind and dropped on top of their hangars. Every single tree on the previously green islands has been stripped of its leaves, leaving endless postnuclear forests with their remaining trunks bent at 90 degrees as a memory of the wind’s direction.

But what comes next could be even worse. There's another major hurricane, Maria, predicted to pass close by on Tuesday, and its impact could be dramatically worsened by the damage caused by Irma.

Read more here. —Jim Waterson

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