The devastation that category 4 Hurricane Maria has visited upon Puerto Rico is beyond imagining, but it’s not as though we lack resources to help. After all, when an earthquake hit Haiti in January 2010, the United States responded in force, treating the country (so Time reported) as its 51st state:
Within two hours of the quake, one of the globe’s biggest warships, the carrier USS Carl Vinson, was ordered from off the Virginia coast toward Haiti, swapping its jet fighters for heavy-lift helicopters as it steamed south at top speed. Three ships, including the Vinson and the hospital ship USNS Comfort, boast state-of-the-art medical facilities that will care for injured Haitians. Thousands of troops are on their way to Haiti or already there, running the airport and clearing ports for many more to follow. Up to 10,000 troops will be in Haiti or floating just offshore by Monday.
We should do at least this much for Puerto Rico, which essentially is our 51st state and whose people are all American citizens. To date, however, Donald Trump appears to be doing nothing.
But it’s not too late. I imagine ships sailing to the rescue as they do during the siege of Gondor in The Lord of the Rings. The moment is dramatic, as Trump suddenly ordering the Navy to Puerto Rico would be, because it comes at a moment when hope seems lost.
Gondor is fighting a desperate battle against Mordor’s allies and then is dealt a final blow when the black sails of the Corsairs of Umbar appear on the river. Éomer, realizing that the end is nigh, prepares to die bravely:
Stern now was Éomer’s mood, and his mind clear again. He let blow the horns to rally all men to his banner that could come thither; for he thought to make a great shield-wall at the last, and stand, and fight there on foot till all fell, and do deeds of song on the fields of Pelennor, though no man should be left in the West to remember the last King of the Mark. So he rode to a green hillock and there set his banner, and the White Horse ran rippling in the wind.
Unbeknownst to Éomer, however, Aragorn and his men, elves and dwarfs have captured the ships, which are consequently filled with allies, not enemies. In a sudden turnaround, despair is replaced by joy:
And then wonder took [Éomer], and a great joy; and he cast his sword up in the sunlight and sang as he caught it. And all eyes followed his gaze, and behold! upon the foremost ship a great standard broke, and the wind displayed it as she turned towards the Harlond. There flowered a White Tree, and that was for Gondor; but Seven Stars were about it, and a high crown above it, the signs of Elendil that no lord had borne for years beyond count. And the stars flamed in the sunlight, for they were wrought of gems by Arwen daughter of Elrond; and the crown was bright in the morning, for it was wrought of mithril and gold.
Tolkien shifts into full epic mode as he announces that help is on the way:
Thus came Aragorn son of Arathorn, Elessar, Isildur’s heir, out of the Paths of the Dead, borne upon a wind from the Sea to the kingdom of Gondor; and the mirth of the Rohirrim was a torrent of laughter and a flashing of swords, and the joy and wonder of the City was a music of trumpets and a ringing of bells. But the hosts of Mordor were seized with bewilderment, and a great wizardry it seemed to them that their own ships should be filled with their foes; and a black dread fell on them, knowing that the tides of fate had turned against them and their doom was at hand.
Unfortunately, even if ships arrive, Puerto Rico faces daunting obstacles. Towns have been wiped out, 80% of its crops and livestock have been destroyed, the power grid may not be up and running for another six months, and the island still faces mudslides and flooding. With help, however, the Puerto Ricans should be able to clamber back
The ships have got to show up first, however.
Update: Things are starting to change: This from Trump yesterday:
Puerto Ricans are American citizens just like the rest of us, and their home has been devastated beyond comprehension by Hurricane Maria. Tomorrow I will ask Congress to pass an emergency $10 billion bill to provide temporary housing throughout the island and to rebuild following the devastation. I expect this to have bipartisan support and to pass by the end of the week. It will take time to ramp up this effort, so in the meantime I have ordered the military to begin rescue and resupply missions as its top priority. This is what Americans expect from their government, and we won’t rest until the job is done.
Of course, Trump had to add some snide comments via Twitter:
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
So the good news is that boats are on the way. The bad news is that Trump implies that unworthy Puerto Rico (unlike Texas and Florida) deserves the disaster.
Oh, and with 40% of the population lacking access to drinkable water, no one thinks that Puerto Rico is “doing well.”
Further updates: Not-so-good news: for some reason, the Navy so far has not sent the UNS Comfort, which has been used for previous hurricanes. According to The Miami Herald,
The Navy ship is, in the simplest terms, a hospital at sea.
The website calls the Comfort a “medical treatment facility,” whose primary mission is to “provide rapid, flexible and mobile acute health service support to Marine Corps, Army and Air Force units deployed ashore, and naval amphibious task and battle forces afloat.” The 1,000-bed ship’s secondary mission is for disaster and/or humanitarian relief.
It was at the ready last year for victims of Hurricane Matthew.
And then this:
On Tuesday, Nathan Potter, of the Naval public affairs office, told The Miami Herald that the vessel was currently docked in Norfolk and had “no plans to deploy.”
Update: The Comfort is now on the way.
Yet another shipping update, this one not so good: According to The Hill, the Trump administration is refusing “to waive shipping restrictions to help get gasoline and other supplies to Puerto Rico as the island recovers from Hurricane Maria,” even though it did so with previous hurricanes. According to John McCain, who is advocating for the waiver, this means that “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.” Trump tweeted that he didn’t want to do so because it was objectionable to shipping companies.