EPA warns Puerto Rico against water from toxic wells

The Environment Protection Agency (EPA) has cautioned Puerto Ricans against drinking from wells designated as “superfund” sites because of hazardous waste. The island is still struggling to restore basic utilities three weeks after Hurricane Maria.

The alert was issued on Wednesday, spurred by reports that residents were drinking water from wells at the hazardous waste sites.

“EPA advises against tampering with sealed and locked wells or drinking water from these wells, as it may be dangerous to people’s health,” said the advisory.

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria struck, 83 percent of the island is still without electricity. The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) reported that 17 percent of power had been restored for residents but revised that down to 10 percent after an outage at a nuclear plant. The government said it hopes to have electricity restored completely by March 2018.

“Power restoration crews continue to arrive on the island. Additional priorities remain hospitals and communication, with an increased focus on isolated regions,” PREPA said, according to WABC. “The governor is implementing a plan to assign the PR National Guard, augmented by the territorial militia, to support local leaders in each of the 78 municipalities to ensure more commodities are pushed to those in need.”

The island’s health care system is facing a new challenge with a reported outbreak of leptospirosis, a bacterial disease spread through water and exposure to animal urine.

President Donald Trump noted on Thursday in a series of tweets that federal first responders can’t stay in Puerto Rico “forever” and pointed out that the US territory bore some blame for its financial struggles.

The administration is committed to the rebuilding of Puerto Rico, said White House chief of staff John Kelly, explaining that the military and federal aid workers will stay on the island “until the job is done,” but the local government will have to do its part.

Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, called Trump’s criticism “unbecoming” of a commander of chief and said his words “seem more to come from a ‘Hater in Chief’.”

Cruz, a Democrat, has been a vocal critic of Trump throughout the crisis, at one point accusing the federal government of “genocide” for not delivering the supplies quickly enough.

It has been three weeks since Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm, made landfall on the island. The 30 hours of wind and rain brought unprecedented flooding and took out Puerto Rico’s electric grid. Since then, the island’s 3.4 million residents have had no electricity and only limited access to safe drinking water and food. More than 45 deaths have been attributed to the storm so far.

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‘You can be very proud’: Trump praises hurricane relief in Puerto Rico

Both Trump and Vice President Mike Pence visited the island last week to affirm Washington’s commitment to the island’s recovery.

The US Navy’s floating hospital, USNS ‘Comfort’, arrived in Puerto Rico last week to conduct medical support operations. About 13,600 Department of Defense personnel are engaged in relief efforts in Puerto Rico and the nearby US Virgin Islands.

According to a new Kaiser Family Foundation poll, released Thursday, 52 percent of respondents said the federal response has been too slow.

Forty-four percent said the federal government’s slow response was to blame for the delay in restoring basic services, while 32 percent blamed disorganization in the local government. A minority, 10 percent, blamed insufficient media coverage.

The respondents were sharply divided along party lines, with Democrats and most independents (80 percent and 61 percent, respectively) saying Puerto Rico was not getting enough help, while Republicans (56 percent) saying the island was getting the aid it needed.

The US House of Representatives passed a $36.5 billion disaster aid package on Thursday, which includes assistance for Puerto Rico as well as Texas and Florida, which were affected by hurricanes Harvey and Irma in August and September.

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