Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET
SAN JUAN, P.R.—The Luis Muñoz Marín Airport here is bustling even in the earliest hours of the morning. People wheel around elderly relatives in need of dialysis, hoping to get a spot on flights that have been overbooked, even though many airlines have resumed full menus of flights to the mainland. Several other people are visitors with no intent at all of flying out—it’s just that the airport is one of the few stable sources of power and cell signal in the city, where street lights and turn signals are all completely dark through the day and night, and where hundreds of people queue in front of government buildings for a spot of WiFi or a phone charge to call relatives.
These conditions represent the best-case scenario right now on the island of Puerto Rico, which is still in need of immediate relief three weeks after the landfall of Hurricane Maria. While some of the worst-hit areas in San Juan have suffered catastrophic damage—the La Perla neighborhood where the music video for Luis Fonsi’s “Despacito” was shot has been almost completely destroyed—the situation elsewhere is much more dire.
Interior towns like Utuado and Barranquitas face total isolation, landslides, and dwindling supplies. FEMA estimates that over a third of the islanders are in need of water, a fact underscored by alarming reports that some people have tried to obtain drinking water from contaminated EPA Superfund sites. In all, millions of people are struggling to find basic necessities, and the presence of federal aid has been tenuous or lacking in rural areas. People are dying, and people will likely continue to die from worsening illnesses.