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Nearly four weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island of Puerto Rico, doctors are experiencing “post-apocalyptic” conditions. The reality doctors in Puerto Rico are facing is similar to that from a dystopian novel.
Doctors are conducting surgical procedures in sweltering 95-degree heat, experience malfunctioning X-ray machines, and have seen medications literally melting. “We’re practicing disaster medicine in real life,” said Dr. William Kotler, a senior resident in emergency medicine at Florida Hospital in Orlando, who spent two weeks volunteering on the island earlier this month. “We improvise if we have to, with very little resources.”
In the days following Hurricane Maria’s devastating blow to Puerto Rico, air traffic on the island came to a complete standstill as airport damage prevented commercial pilots from servicing the island. That said, with the island economy grinding to a halt, San Juan International apparently managed to find a way to accept one very important plane…a “jet loaded with an undisclosed amount of cash” from New York Fed president William Dudley. Per Bloomberg:
Less than a week into the massive blackout that followed Hurricane Maria and essentially turned Puerto Rico into a cash-only economy, one top local banker became so concerned about the supply of bills that he called the Federal Reserve.
William Dudley, the New York Fed president, put the word out within minutes, and ultimately a jet loaded with an undisclosed amount of cash landed on the stricken island, according to Richard Carrion, the Popular Inc. executive chairman who made the call. He and Chief Executive Officer Ignacio Alvarez reflected on the chaotic early days of the crisis in an interview Friday at their office in San Juan’s Hato Rey financial district.
“We thought the cash was going to be a problem,” said Carrion, 64, whose bank is the biggest in Puerto Rico by deposits. “The magnitude of this is something we haven’t experienced.” Suzanne Elio, a New York Fed spokeswoman, declined to comment on the money shipment.
The executives described corporate clients’ urgent requests for hundreds of thousands in cash to meet payrolls, and the challenge of finding enough armored cars to satisfy endless demand at ATMs. Such were the days after Maria devastated the U.S. territory last month, killing 39 people, crushing buildings and wiping out the island’s energy grid. As early as the day after the storm, the Fed began working to get money onto the island, according to a person with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be named discussing the Fed’s preparations.
Of course, as we’ve noted before, nearly three weeks after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20th, some 90% of the island is still without power and the resulting damage to the local economy will undoubtedly have long-lasting effects.
Nine of ten Puerto Ricans are still without power, half the island has no drinking water, schools are closed, there’s a government-mandated curfew — and businesses everywhere are trying to cope. At Popular, half of branches remained shuttered Friday, as did two-thirds of ATMs.
Alvarez, 58, is a Harvard Law School graduate who took over as Popular’s CEO earlier this year. Previously, the post was held by Carrion, whose family has helped run the firm for generations. Alvarez said that stores have closed and workers have been laid off as a result of the storm, which is a worry for the bank.
“More than property damage to our collateral, which is not going to be that great, is the economic disruption caused by the hurricane,” he said.
The lack of power was a nightmare for dialysis and cancer patients, as well as the elderly trapped in condominiums without air conditioning. The blackout also means that this corner of credit-card dependent America is relearning how to function almost entirely in cash. When some generator-powered ATMs finally opened, lines stretched hours long, with people camping out in beach chairs and holding umbrellas against the sun.
Popular could face a downgrade by Fitch Ratings on concerns that the storm’s after-effects may harm business. Its stock has dropped 11 percent since the storm in New York trading, and is down 19 percent for the year.
Meanwhile, the even larger threat to the Puerto Rican economy is that residents will simply decide they’ve had enough of the island life, and the constant threat of devastating hurricanes that comes along with it, and jump ship to the mainland. As Bloomberg notes, the island already loses roughly 2% of its population a year to the continental United States but, with many people being evacuated in the days following September 20th, it’s very likely that 2017 will see a much larger exodus.
A major concern, both men agreed, was the prospect of a mass exodus to the U.S. mainland. Governor Ricardo Rossello has warned that, if the aid package being debated in Washington falls short, “millions” could leave the island. The population has already been shrinking 2 percent annually for three years running on the island of 3.4 million, due in large part to a decade-long economic lull.
“There is a danger” of flight, Carrion said. “I don’t need a visa. I don’t need anything to go there. I have relatives in Orlando, or I have relatives in Houston, or I have relatives in New Jersey.”
“Everybody has relatives in the states,” said Alvarez, cutting him off.
“Yeah, everybody,” Carrion said. “There’s more Puerto Ricans in the continental U.S. than here. So everybody’s got a relative.”
…all of which has Democrats laying out the welcome mats in the key swing state of Florida…never let a good crisis go to waste
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As mayors of cities with large Puerto Rican populations continue to advocate for federal assistance to help with the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who are expected to temporarily seek shelter with friends and families in the US, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in Florida, allowing state agencies to take extraordinary measures to assist families that will soon be arriving in droves to cities like Orlando and Miami, both of which feature large Puerto Rican populations.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that Scott announced that disaster relief centers will be set up at Orlando International Airport and in Miami to help those seeking refuge in Florida.
As the disaster-relief effort enters its second week, air traffic is slowly resuming, which means hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans will likely flee the devastated island to stay with friends and relatives in the continental US as they wait for FEMA to rebuild roads, repair power grids and and revive the island’s communications infrastructure – a process that could take months, if not longer.
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Most Puerto Ricans haven’t had access to electricity, cell service or financial services for nearly two weeks now. And as we reported yesterday, residents who didn’t stockpile enough cash have been struggling after Hurricane Maria essentially knocked the island’s economy into the 1950s, forcing some to forgo essential supplies – or worse – resort to looting. For those who do have access to working ATMs and banks, long lines have sapped cash reserves as the country has effectively reverted to a “cash only” economy.
Those whose access to cash has been limited – or cut off entirely – are becoming desperate as they start to wonder how they will begin the process of rebuilding their trashed homes – or even where their next meal will come from. As Reuters reports, cash has become just one of many scarce resources on the island (food, medical supplies and gas are also in incredibly short supply).
Update: The National Hurricane Center reports that Hurricane Maria has just strengthened to a “potentially catastrophic” Category-5 Storm with winds expected over 160mph.
The 3.5 million people of Puerto Rico are entering their second day with no power after a substation fire knocked out service to the entire island. The power outage has left schools scrambling to cancel classes and public hospitals forced to cancel surgeries.
Perhaps even worse, the outage caused numerous fires across the island as a result of malfunctioning generators, including at the upscale Vanderbilt hotel in the popular tourist area of Condado and at the mayor’s office in the northern coastal town of Catano.
As expected, Puerto Rico will default on about $2 billion in debt payments Friday, including $780 million in constitutionally-backed general obligation bonds, as governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla has issued an executive order authorizing the suspension of payments. In addition, Garcia Padilla also declared states of emergency at the island’s biggest public pension – the Commonwealth’s Employee Retirement System – which is more than 99% underfunded, as well as the University of Puerto Rico and other agencies Reuters reports. The default will mark the first time a US territory has failed to pay on its general obligation bonds.
“Under these circumstances, these executive orders protect the limited resources available to the agencies listed in these orders and prevents that these can be seized by creditors, leaving Puerto Ricans without basic services,” Garcia Padilla’s administration said in a statement.
Moments ago, following the overwhelming passage of a Puerto Rico bailout bill by the US House of Representatives, Congress found itself on the edge of sending the PR debt relief Bill for the president signature, when the Senate, in a 68-32 vote, likewise passed the measure. This makes final passage of the legislation a virtual certainty as sixty votes were needed to clear the procedural hurdle, but only a majority vote is necessary on final passage.
The legislation allows Puerto Rico to restructure $70 billion in debt and establish an outside control board to steer the island’s troubled finances. President Obama supports the package, and is expected to quickly sign it.
Ahead of next week’s visit by the UN decolonization committee and buried in economic debt, some 500 activists with the Puerto Rico independence movement took to the streets of Old San Juan to demand freedom from US rule.
There were two purposes to the Saturday march, according to Liliana Laboy, one of the members of the Independentista Roundtable, speaking to EFE: “To insist that it’s time to start the decolonization process that will bring us independence, and to support the hearings this Monday.”
As it turns out, on the day the House announced that it planned on taking up the Puerto Rico bill next week, a 17 member audit commission found that two debt issues worth $4.4 billion of the $72 billion in debt outstanding were unconstitutional.
LITTLE ST. JAMES, U.S. Virgin Islands (INTELLIHUB) — If you can name it — it has likely taken place this the lavish private island off the coast of Puerto Rico which boasts a beautifully landscaped plush luxury estate complete with its own helipad, privy only to certain members of the global elite.
Owned by Jeffery Epstein, a wealthy American financier and convicted sex offender, Little St. James Island appears to be somewhat of a gathering place and is a well desired hangout among key figureheads, actors and royalty to the likes of former U.S. President Bill Clinton, Kevin Spacey and even Prince Andrew.
However, the people attending the lavish residence are likely do not go there to discuss “cutting edge scientific and medical research” as the Epstein VI Foundation would like you to believe, but rather go there to experience full-on sexual encounters with underage girls as young as fourteen.
It turns out that Puerto Rico’s plan to default on its debt and beg congress for help is working out as planned.
After a slight delay, House Republicans have reached an agreement with the Obama administration to provide a path to restructure Puerto Rico’s $70 billion debt load. The bill would offer the island a legal out similar to bankruptcy and wouldn’t commit any federal money according to the WSJ.
In an interview with Wolf Blitzer, Donald Trump said that although he is the “king of debt”, and that he “loves debt”, he wouldn’t bail out Puerto Rico.
Responding to whether or not Trump would bail out Puerto Rico as president of the United States…
“No I don’t believe they should, and I think frankly Puerto Rico is better if they don’t because they’ll cut the bonds, they’ll cut them way down there’s far too much debt. The problem with Puerto Rico is they are far, far too much in debt. Don’t forget, I’m the king of debt, I love debt“
As far as how he would suggest Puerto Rico solve its debt issue, The Donald, of course, has a solution for that.