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Report from Puerto Rico: Death Toll Higher Than Reported Amid Water Shortage & Health Crisis

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Good news or fake news? Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and the Trump administration defend their response to the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico, where many of the 3.5 million residents remain without electricity and are desperate for fresh water, food and other supplies. We speak with Laura Moscoso, a data journalist at the Puerto Rico-based Center for Investigative Journalism. She says the death toll is much higher than the government reports, noting, "Our phones have been ringing with many testimonies."

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today's show with the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico. Nine days after Hurricane Maria destroyed much of the island's infrastructure, many of its three-and-a-half million residents remain without electricity, are desperate for fresh water, power, food and other supplies. At least 10,000 shipping containers that hold aid are stockpiled at the port, overwhelming the 4,400 U.S. military members who are scrambling to distribute to rural areas where much of the infrastructure is in shambles.

On Capitol Hill Thursday, Democratic lawmakers accused President Trump of neglecting millions of U.S. citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. New York Congressmember Nydia Vela'zquez, who was born in Puerto Rico, said the White House showed far more urgency responding to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, which devastated parts of Texas and Florida -- two states that voted for Trump.

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REP. NYDIA VELA'ZQUEZ: Unfortunately, this administration's response has been inexcusably slow and ineffective. ... To the people who are collapsed in the airport, trying to get off the island; to those of you in houses without roofs, waiting for the power to come back, worried you are running out of drinking water; to those on the mainland who are worried about their loved ones on the island, let me say this: We're going to keep fighting for you. Do not give up. We will not give up.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the Trump administration responded to pressure Thursday to waive a shipping law known as the Jones Act, that officials said was hindering disaster relief efforts for Puerto Rico. Also Thursday, acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke responded to questions from reporters about aid, about the administration's response.

REPORTER: Are you satisfied so far with the federal response? Are you comfortable with what this government is doing?

ELAINE DUKE: I am very satisfied. I know it's a hard storm to recover from, but the amount of progress that's been made, and I really would appreciate any support that we get. I know it -- it is really a good news story in terms of our ability to reach people and the limited number of deaths that have taken place in such a devastating hurricane.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, presidential spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Thursday that 10,000 government workers are helping Puerto Rico, including more than 7,000 troops. Three-star general Lieutenant General Jeff Buchanan, commander of the U.S. Army North, arrived on the island Thursday to direct the relief effort.

For more, we go directly to San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico. We're on the phone with the government and media command center. Laura Moscoso is joining us. She's a data journalist with the Center for Investigative Journalism, an award-winning independent media that is marking its 10th anniversary this year. They are reporting this week that the death toll is higher than the government reports.

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Welcome to Democracy Now!, Laura. Talk about what you're encountering now. And what about these figures that you believe the death toll is much higher than is being reported?

LAURA MOSCOSO: Hi, Amy. Thanks for having us in your program.

So, everything that you said on the introduction of our situation in Puerto Rico is still true. We still have people that don't have clean water, that don't have food. We still have people in hospitals that are not being attended to. And we still have all the supplies and resources locked on the ports and the airport. So, nine days after the storm, we are exactly at the same stage.

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Democracy Now!  is a national, daily, independent, award-winning news program hosted by journalists Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez. Pioneering the largest public media collaboration in the U.S., Democracy Now! is broadcast on (more...)
 

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