SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico (AP) — Four deaths in Hurricane Maria’s aftermath are being investigated as possible cases of a disease spread by animals’ urine, Puerto Rico’s governor said Wednesday amid concerns about islanders’ exposure to contaminated water.
A total of 10 people have come down with suspected cases of leptospirosis, Gov. Ricardo Rossello said at a news conference.
On a U.S. territory where a third of customers remain without running water three weeks after the hurricane, some became ill after turning to local streams to relieve their thirst.
Jorge Antonio Sanyet Morales, a 61-year-old bus driver, took a drink from a stream near his concrete home on a hillside in Canovanas a week after the Sept. 20 storm. He then developed a fever, his skin turned yellow and within a week, he died at a hospital in Carolina, according to his widow, Maritza Rivera.
Dr. Juan Santiago said Sanyet was among five patients who came in his emergency clinic last week with similar symptoms after drinking from streams in Canovanas and Loiza.
The water was still not running at Sanyet’s house this week, but Rivera, said she and her family were drinking only bottled water, including some delivered by the town. Her husband was the only one who drank from the stream, she said.
“He was a friend to everyone,” Rivera said. “I don’t know how I’ll face everything without him.”
Forty-five deaths in Puerto Rico have been blamed on Hurricane Maria, which tore across the island with 150 mph (240 kph) winds. Ninety percent of the island is still without power and the government says it hopes to have electricity restored completely by March.
Leptospirosis is not uncommon in the tropics, particularly after heavy rains or floods. Rossello said the symptoms can be confused with those of other illnesses, including dengue, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was helping to investigate. Two of the deaths were in Bayamon, and one each in Carolina and Mayaguez. Other patients have been receiving treatment with antibiotics.
Rossello said that fliers with instructions on how to disinfect water will be sent to mayors for distribution with food supplies in towns across Puerto Rico.
“For people that have access to internet and have access to printers, be good citizens and help us distribute this information,” Rossello said.
The Health Department and the U.S. military also will be distributing pills to purify water, he said.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The House is on track to backing President Donald Trump’s request for billions more in disaster aid, $16 billion to pay flood insurance claims and emergency funding to help the cash-strapped government of Puerto Rico stay afloat.
Thursday’s hurricane aid package totals $36.5 billion and sticks close to a White House request, ignoring — for now — huge demands from the powerful Florida and Texas delegations, who together pressed for some $40 billion more.
Yet President Donald Trump criticized the U.S. territory early Thursday, saying it shouldn’t expect federal help to last “forever.” In a series of tweets, the president said “electric and all infrastructure was disaster before hurricanes” and blamed Puerto Rico for its looming financial crisis and “a total lack of accountability.”
He tweeted: “We cannot keep FEMA, the Military & the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!”
A steady series of disasters — massive flooding in Texas, hurricane damage in Florida, and a humanitarian crisis in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico — could be putting 2017 on track to rival Hurricane Katrina and other 2005 storms as the most costly set of disasters ever. Katrina required about $110 billion in emergency appropriations.
The bill combines $18.7 billion for the Federal Emergency Management Agency with $16 billion to permit the financially troubled federal flood insurance program pay an influx of Harvey-related claims. Another $577 million would pay for western firefighting efforts.
Up to $5 billion of the FEMA money could be used to help local governments — especially Puerto Rico’s central government and the island’s local governments — remain functional as they endure unsustainable cash shortfalls in the aftermath of Maria, which has choked off revenues and strained resources.
House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., is traveling to Puerto Rico on Friday. He has promised that the U.S. territory will get what it needs, but most of the island remains without power, and many of its more isolated residents still lack drinking water.
“It’s not easy when you’re used to live in an American way of life, and then somebody tell you that you’re going to be without power for six or eight months,” said Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez-Colon, who represents Puerto Rico as a non-voting member of Congress. “It’s not easy when you are continue to suffer — see the suffering of the people without food, without water, and actually living in a humanitarian crisis.”
Republicans controlling Congress, who had protracted debates last year on modest requests by former President Barack Obama to combat the Zika virus and help Flint, Michigan, repair its lead-tainted water system, are moving quickly to take care of this year’s alarming series of disasters, quickly passing a $15.3 billion measure last month and signaling that another installment is coming next month.
Several lawmakers from hurricane-hit states said a third interim aid request is anticipated shortly — with a final, huge hurricane recovery and rebuilding package likely to be acted upon by the end of the year.
“Another tranche is coming in maybe two, three weeks,” said Rep. Pete Olsen, R-Texas. Olsen said several members of the Texas delegation won assurances from Ryan that more money is on its way.
“I’m counting on the next supplemental adding the funds for Texas,” said Rep. John Carter, R-Texas.
Democrats embraced the package which was before lawmakers Thursday. It includes an estimated $1 billion added by the House Appropriations Committee to address California’s ongoing wildfire disasters, a priority for Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.