(Slate) -- When it struck the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico six days ago, Hurricane Maria was the strongest storm to hit the American territories in 80 years. “Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought,” according to one New York Times dispatch from Puerto Rico. In its wake, more than 3 million Americans now live without electricity or adequate food or water, and under the specter of looting and disorder. Some 80 percent of island’s agriculture has been destroyed, decimating a source of food as well as a chunk of Puerto Rico’s economy. Ninety-five percent of cellphone towers on Puerto Rico are out, depriving locals of a way to ask for help—and crippling any government response, too. The situation will likely worsen as emergency supplies run out and as the local government finds itself unable to deliver support or maintain order across such a wrecked landscape.
So far, the Trump administration has dispatched an anemic Federal Emergency Management Agency mission and sundry military units to assess the situation and provide support. But in some cases it took the federal government days to even contact local leaders in Puerto Rico’s major cities, let alone deploy aid. Only the most rudimentary military support is now on the ground. This is inadequate and calls to mind the lethargic response by the Bush administration to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The U.S. military has a unique expeditionary capability to deliver humanitarian support, logistics, and security anywhere in the world, far above what FEMA or any other civilian agency can muster. American citizens are suffering and dying and need all their government can do for them (including the military). Unfortunately, their president and the military at his command appear focused elsewhere. Unless this changes, more Americans will die.