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National Nurses United has sent 50 nurses to volunteer in Puerto Rico, where they're delivering medical aid and teaching residents how to purify water and prevent illness. (Photo: @cidelson/Twitter)

On-the-Ground Reports Destroy Trump's Sunny Portrayal of Puerto Rico Recovery

Relief volunteers say they are witnessing the "harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response"

Julia Conley

The White House's rosy portrayal of Puerto Rico's recovery contrasts with the grim details relief workers are sharing about the reality on the ground.

According to numerous accounts of the recovery and a website set up by the Puerto Rican government, there is still a dire food and water shortage on the island. Only about ten percent of the island has electricity, and only a third of cell phone towers are in working order.

"People are still without food and water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first. No more disgraceful delays. The Trump administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately."—Bonnie Castillo, National Nurses United

Yet in a White House's video posted on Twitter this week, Trump was shown shaking hands with hurricane survivors while triumphant music played and footage and on-screen text assured viewers that generator fuel is being delivered to hospitals, roads are quickly being cleared, and water is rapidly being brought to families in need. In both tweets and repeated public statements over recent days, Trump has shown he is far more concerned with garnering praise for his response to the disaster than with addressing the struggles Puerto Ricans continue to face.

On Tuesday, National Nurses United shared some of what the group's 50 volunteer nurses have observed—noting that 21 days after Maria swept through the U.S. territory, many federal workers on the island are still assessing damage rather than handing out supplies.

Bonnie Castillo, director of NNU's Registered Nurses Relief Network program, spoke out about the government's paltry efforts on the island.

"What our nurses witness daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people," said Castillo in a statement. "People are still without food and water. That poses an enormous humanitarian threat in terms of disease, life, and death and who succumbs first. No more disgraceful delays. The Trump administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately."

Meanwhile, the Guardian reported Wednesday that some federal officials are privately acknowledging the slow response to the disaster, with FEMA and its partners "only providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of more than 2 million people."

Jose Andrés of World Central Kitchen, a network of chefs that was contracted by FEMA to provide 20,000 meals per day, told the Guardian that red tape is keeping his organization from providing more help.

World Central Kitchen's contract "ended on Tuesday," reported the Guardian. "FEMA insists it is bound by federal rules that mean it will take several weeks for a new contract to emerge to feed more Americans."

"There is no urgency in the government response to this humanitarian crisis," Andrés said. "They have all the officials and armed guards at headquarters, but they have no information about the island. They don't even have a map they can share about who needs food."

On Twitter, an Army veteran named Jason Maddy has posted several videos from western Puerto Rico where he is volunteering. In a video posted Tuesday, he and his fellow relief workers shared that supplies that are being sent to the island are not getting from San Juan to smaller cities and towns, leaving volunteers with only a few bottles of water and one small meal to give to each household they come across—a reality that counters the narrative pushed by the White House.

Other messages posted to social media have shown the stark difference between Trump's sunny portrayal of the recovery—and his insistence that the White House should be praised—and the reality on the ground.

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