Aguadilla, a town of 60,000, has no running water, cell service or electricity
Town's mayor: FEMA isn't on the scene so he's driving to San Juan to get agency's aid
David Cortes had no other choice: He and his two children would have to bathe in filthy, muddy water.
They live on Puerto Rico’s west coast in Aguadilla, which Hurricane Maria pummeled last week. There’s no running water, cell service or electricity in the town of about 60,000 people.
Residents such as Cortes are bathing in a town plaza that flooded after a water spring erupted following Maria’s destruction, spewing dirty water.
“We are in a crisis so I have to bathe at the plaza in Aguadilla,” Cortes said Thursday. “I have two kids, and I’m worried because there is no water and no electricity.”
Aid and supplies are relatively plentiful in the island’s capital, San Juan, but they’re harder to come by in more distant areas of the US commonwealth of 3.4 million people.
Federal relief has come to Aguadilla, but not easily or quickly, according to Mayor Carlos Mendez. He said the Federal Emergency Management Agency is making supplies available for him. But it’s not delivering them.
Mendez said he drives roughly two hours each way every morning – starting at 4 – to San Juan to pick up supplies and make contact with FEMA officials.
“They’re not coming here, I’m going there,” Mendez said. “My people are suffering. This is a disaster.”
FEMA did not respond to CNN’s request for comment about sending aid directly to Aguadilla. FEMA officials did say Thursday that they are working around the clock to get essential services and supplies to everyone. But even they acknowledge it’s been a challenging recovery.
“A response to an incident like this is complex, it’s difficult, and it’s not nearly as fast as any of us want,” John Rabin, acting regional administrator for FEMA, told reporters Thursday at a news conference in San Juan.
Still, some delays are head-scratching. JetBlue Airways and Spirit Airlines have already flown aid missions to the airport in Aguadilla. But a government plane with essential supplies has yet to show up, according to Robert Casiano, the cargo operations manager for Aguadilla’s Rafael Hernández Airport.
“Our equipment is fully operational. We have enough fuel for all kinds of aircraft; we just need the jets to start arriving. They haven’t arrived yet,” Casiano said.
Casiano credited the US Coast Guard with helping to supply clean water to the local community. And he said he believes federal relief aid could arrive by plane Friday. But nothing is confirmed.
Mendez, the mayor, and his staff have distributed water and food at various sites in Aguadilla. They said there’s enough for everyone.
But residents who are hoping to pick up supplies as the stifling heat beats down on them don’t share the same view.
“There isn’t enough (water) to cover the entire region,” Joel Villanova told CNN, waiting in line with two gallon-size jugs of water.