Hurricane Maria: Relief efforts struggle to reach Puerto Rico residents

Hurricane Maria: Relief efforts struggle to reach Puerto Rico residents

Hurricane Maria: Relief efforts struggle to reach Puerto Rico residents

Updated 29 September 2017, 22:25 AEST

Communications are down, water and fuel are scarce and the island remains largely without power, a more than a week after Hurricane Maria smashed Puerto Rico.

It's been just more than a week since Hurricane Maria ripped across Puerto Rico, devastating infrastructure on the island which is home to 3.4 million people.

Governor Ricardo Rossello called the devastation an unprecedented natural disaster.

Despite the fact US federal emergency management authorities and the military are stepping up relief efforts, the scale of the devastation is hard to comprehend.

Almost the entire island is still without power

It's not just hyperbole.

Take a look at this image of Puerto Rico from a satellite.

The top image was taken on July 24; the bottom, on September 24, with the island almost completely in darkness.

It means residents trying to escape the stifling tropical heat aren't able to use air conditioners, fans or even cold water.

Communicating with the outside world is almost impossible

The US Federal Communications Commission says more than 91 per cent of cell phone sites in Puerto Rico are out of action.

The widespread power outages mean huge numbers of consumers are without internet or cable service.

At least nine radio stations and one TV station in Puerto Rico also remain off the air, the FCC said.

Water and fuel are scarce

Desperate residents have waited hours in long lines for deliveries of diesel fuel to power generators and gasoline to fill empty automobile tanks.

Some water-supply trucks have been mobbed.

On Tuesday, hundreds of people crowded around a government water tanker in the north-eastern municipality of Canovanas — 25 kilometres east of the capital San Juan — with containers of every size and shape after a wait that for many had lasted days.

Medical experts said they were concerned about a looming public health crisis posed by the island's crippled water and sewage treatment system.

Help is slowly arriving, but residents say there's more that can be done

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) said by Wednesday (local time), it had delivered more than 4.4 million meals and 6.5 million litres of water in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands since Maria ravaged the Caribbean.

But resident Maribel Valentin Espino and her husband say they have not seen anyone from the Puerto Rican Government, much less the FEMA, since the storm.

"People say FEMA is going to help us," she said.

"We're waiting."

Complicating things is a law requiring all goods shipped between US ports be carried by US-owned-and-operated vessels, known as the Jones Act.

Governor Rossello urged US President Donald Trump to temporarily waive the act to help aid.

"We're thinking about that," Mr Trump told reporters.

"But we have a lot of shippers and … a lot of people that work in the shipping industry that don't want the Jones Act lifted, and we have a lot of ships out there right now."