Puerto Ricans in Indy worried about Trump's tweets about recovery efforts

Efrain Diaz Figueroa spends the afternoon sitting on a chair next to the remains of the house of his sister destroyed by Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Monday, Oct. 9, 2017. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)
Hoosiers disappointed by Trump response to Puerto Rico
President Trump slams Puerto Rico

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - The irony isn't lost on IPL President and CEO Rafael Sanchez that while he's the head of a power company here in Indiana, back in the place where he was born and raised, only about 15 percent of residents have power.

No matter how much he'd like to, there's nothing Sanchez can do right now to help.

"Logistically, it's a nightmare," he said of the devastation left in Hurricane Maria's wake.

Sanchez and his wife still have family in Puerto Rico who they just visited in April. Now, some days they can't even reach them to see how they're doing.

"It's hit or miss," said Sanchez. "I only know of one cousin who has power."

If this was any other group of Americans without power, Sanchez and IPL could help by sending crews and trucks.

But not this time.

"We can't drive bucket trucks to Puerto Rico, so we have to coordinate with FEMA, with the military, through a number of different associations," Sanchez said. "And right now Puerto Rico is a bit overwhelmed in terms of coordinating all of that."

The clock seems to be ticking for that coordination and help from the federal government after a tweet from President Donald Trump this morning.

"We cannot keep FEMA, the Military and the First Responders, who have been amazing (under the most difficult circumstances) in P.R. forever!," the president tweeted.

"My gut reaction is this is part of the United States, so it's sort of based on the implication that it's not and so FEMA has always been there. It's expected to be there. We would never leave any other state or territory unresponded to that way," said Sanchez of the president's tweet.

Recovery efforts have been slow going since Maria hit the U.S. territory, home to 3.4 million people, on September 20. Much of the island is still without basic services like power and running water.

Local officials have said they expect the death toll to rise, with hospitals running low on medicine and fuel.

Sanchez says now is not the time for anyone to be playing the blame game or putting timetables on help.

"We have to think about how do we save lives and how do we mitigate the hardship that is being caused on all these families, because they are Americans. Just like we call ourselves Hoosiers. Hoosiers are Americans. You say Puerto Ricans. Puerto Ricans are Americans," said Sanchez.

"It was sad to see a statement like that because in a situation like this, this is total devastation," said Maria Bertram who, like Sanchez, was born and raised in Puerto Rico.

Bertram married a Hoosier and now owns a cafe and coffee shop on the near east side of Indianapolis.

The devastation in Puerto Rico keeps her up at night here.

That's because most of the people she loves: her parents, grandparents, sister and other family are still there, facing life without power and other resources.

"They're tired. They're tired and it's very hard to hear them say, 'We're good, but the situation is the same,'" said Bertram.

This morning's tweets from the president did nothing to convince Bertram Puerto Rico and its residents will be a priority for the long haul.

"It's complete devastation across the board. You can't just put a band-aid or treat something like a catastrophe like this as a business deal," said Bertram. "This is pretty much, 'Please stay. Help us to get back on our feet. And help us recover.'"

A recovery, Bertram says, that is going to take years, admitting Puerto Rico was already financially strapped before Maria hit. Something she says residents had no control over. The recovery now, making them feel just as helpless.

"This is not going to be an easy fix and it's going to be long term," Bertram said.

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