Tag Archive: Mark Shuster


The Paradise Papers

-paradisepapers.jpg

 

 

On Nov. 5, one of the largest data leaks in history revealed the offshore endeavors of some of the world’s richest and most influential people.  Shocking new revelations expose how companies and individuals avoid taxes through imaginative bookkeeping maneuvers as well as investments or purchases in countries with lower or no taxes.  The leak, known as the Paradise Papers, came in 13.4 million leaked documents revealing how a Bermudan law firm Appleby, helps corporations and the world’s wealthiest people evade taxes and obscure their ownership of everything from private planes to whole companies.

The documents expose the offshore assets of some of the world’s biggest companies such as Facebook, Twitter, Apple, Disney, Uber, Nike, Walmart, Allianz, Siemens, McDonald’s, and Yahoo! are among the corporations that own offshore companies,as well as Allergan, the manufacturer of Botox.  The documents also detail the offshore assets of many high-profile figures, including Queen Elizabeth II, singers Madonna and Shakira, and Secretary of Commerce and billionaire Wilbur Ross.

Most of the leaked files come from an offshore legal firm called Appleby, which was founded in Bermuda but has offices in Hong Kong, the Cayman Islands, Shanghai, and other locations. The firm is a part of an informal group of the world’s leading offshore law practices.  After media outlets started reporting on the documents, the company said that there was “no evidence of wrongdoing”, that they “are a law firm which advises clients on legitimate and lawful ways to conduct their business”.  They also issued a series of public statements insisting that the firm was not the subject of a leak but of a serious criminal act- an illegal computer hack. Our systems were accessed by an intruder who deployed the tactics of a professional hacker”.

While offshoring is controversial, it’s typically not illegal and allows businesses and wealthy people to avoid paying taxes, creditors, trade sanctions, and more all without technically breaking the laws.  When someone’s assets are in question regarding lawsuit and divorce settlements or child support, offshore assets are typically well hidden so they are not included.  The main issue is that when wealthy people have offshore assets, it has many economic and political repercussions for everyday citizens — like putting a heavier burden on “honest taxpayers.”  The IRS once estimated that U.S. taxpayers have to pay an extra 15 percent because of the offshoring industry.

Some examples of what the Paradise Papers have exposed are how four-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton avoided paying more than $4 million in taxes for a private jet.  Hugh Grosvenor, the Duke of Westminster, is named in the papers in relation to two offshore trusts set up by the Grosvenor estate in the 1960s and 1970s, long before his birth.  Grosvenor, who inherited the estate after the death of his father in 2016, reportedly managed, thanks to careful planning from his family’s estate, to avoid paying 40% “death duties” usually levied when assets pass from one generation to another.  The documents detail how Nike boosted its after-tax profits by, transferring ownership of its Swoosh trademark to a Bermudan subsidiary, Nike International Ltd. This transfer allowed the subsidiary to charge royalties to its European headquarters in Hilversum, Netherlands, effectively converting taxable company profits to an account payable in tax-free Bermuda.  Although the subsidiary was effectively run by executives at Nike’s main offices in Beaverton, Oregon, for tax purposes the subsidiary was treated as based in Bermuda.   This maneuver earned them tax free royalties in 2010, 2011 and 2012 totaling $3.86 billion.

Advertisements

tx church shooting.jpg

 

 

 

A gunman in Texas opened fire Sunday morning church service in the small town of Sutherland Springs, killing 26 people and wounding at least 20 others. Witnesses say a man dressed in black wearing tactical gear and a ballistic vest began firing outside the church before entering the building, shooting dozens of people inside.  The suspected shooter has been identified as a 26-year-old Devin Patrick Kelley from New Braunfels, Texas.  Kelley was found dead in his car shortly after the shooting.

Survivors of the attack said they heard what sounded like firecrackers outside the church and realized someone was shooting at the tiny wood-frame building.  Congregants began screaming and dropped to the floor after getting hit.  The gunman then entered the church and shot the people in charge of the camera and audio of the service.  He quickly moved down the center aisle shooting congregants.  The shooting stopped, leaving worshippers to think it was over but the gunman entered the church again yelling “Everybody die!” as he checked each aisle for more victims, including babies who cried out amid the chaos, shooting helpless families at point blank range.

Stephen Willeford, who had run out of his house near the church barefoot, shot at Kelley, hitting him twice and forcing him to flee.  Willeford, ran toward a truck that was stopped at the stop sign outside the church and quickly told the driver, Johnnie Langendorff what had transpired.  The two followed Kelley in the truck for 11 miles at speeds reaching 90 mph before Kelley lost control of his vehicle and crashed into a ditch.  Willeford and Langendorff kept a safe distance while Willeford aimed his rifle at Kelley’s car and Langendorff directed the police to the location of the shooter.  Authorities believe Kelley shot himself in the head shortly after the crash.  Authorities also said Kelley appears to have carried out the massacre because of a domestic dispute he had with a former mother-in-law, who was a member of the First Baptist Church but was not present on Sunday.

Kelley enlisted in the U.S. Air Force in 2010 but was court-martialed for assaulting his then wife, Tessa and his stepson-who suffered a fractured skull during the assault.  Kelley was demoted and underwent a year-long imprisonment where he once escaped from a psychiatric hospital, threatened to kill his superiors in the U.S. Air Force and tried to smuggle firearms onto his base.  His first wife divorced him during his confinement and he received a “bad conduct” discharge in 2014, a dismissal that usually precludes ex-servicemen from buying firearms.   The Air Force has admitted it failed to report Kelley’s domestic violence court-martial to a federal database, which would have prohibited Kelley from legally buying the rifle that he used in the shooting.

Kelley married his second wife, Danielle Shields in 2014 but they became estranged sometime in 2016. Kelley had sent threatening text messages to Shields mother, Michelle who was a member of the church but was not present during the shooting.  Authorities say nearly half of those shot in the church were children and many were from the same families.  Those killed in the shooting were Michelle Shields mother, Lula Woicinski White, 71; Robert Scott Marshall and his wife, Karen, both 56, Peggy Lynn Warden, 56; Keith Allen Braden, 62; Robert and Shani Corrigan, both 51; Dennis Johnson, 77 and his wife Sara, 68; Haley Krueger, 16, Tara McNulty, 33; Ricardo Rodriguez, 64, and his wife Therese, 66; Annabelle Pomeroy, 14; Joann Ward, 30; Emily Ward, 7; Brooke Ward, 5; Bryan Holcombe, 60; Karla Holcombe, 58; Marc Daniel Holcombe, 36; Noah Holcombe, 17 months; Greg Holcombe, 13; Emily Holcomb, 11; Megan Holcombe, 9; Crystal Holcombe, 36 and her unborn child Carlin.

kevin spacey.jpgjames_toback.jpg

 

 

In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal, men across the world are continuing to resign, be fired or face intense criticism over a slew of allegations of sexual harassment and assault that have surfaced.  Accusations against those in Hollywood, the media industry, universities, restaurants and the highest reaches of government have revealed inappropriate conduct from many notable men.  The list of those accused of sexual harassment or misconduct continues to grow each day and is sweeping many industries.  Let’s take a look at some of those recently accused.

Producer and director Brett Ratner was accused of sexually harassing six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge.  Director James Toback was accused of sexually harassing over 300 women over several decades, including Julianne Moore, Selma Blaire and Rachel McAdams.  Chris Savino, 46, an animator and writer best known for creating The Loud House, was fired from Nickelodeon after multiple women lodged complaints against him, the network confirmed in a statement.

Actor Kevin Spacey has been accused of sexual harassment by actor Anthony Rapp, who claims he was 14 when Spacey made advances towards him in 1986. Spacey apologized to Rapp via Twitter.  The actor also came out as gay in the statement which drew criticism as an attempt at distracting from disturbing claims against a child.   Several other accusers have come forward against Spacey, including a former House of Cards crew member, filmmaker Tony Montana and actor Rob Cavazos.  On Oct. 31, Netflix announced it would shut down production of the sixth and final season of Cards “until further notice.”  In addition, the International Academy of Television Arts and Sciences said it would no longer honor Spacey with the 2017 Emmy Founders Award.

In the media industry, Michael Oreskes, NPR’s senior vice president for news, has resigned after multiple women accused him of kissing them without their consent during meetings for possible employment.  At least a dozen women have accused journalist Mark Halperin of sexually harassment or assault, with at least some of the incidents during his time as political director at ABC News.  Lockhart Steele, the editorial director for Vox Media, was fired after engaging in several incidents of sexual misconduct.  Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios, quit five days after being put on leave after a producer accused him of sexual harassment.

Celebrity chef John Besh stepped down from the company he founded after about two dozen current and former female employees accused him and other male workers of sexual harassment in what they described as a hostile corporate culture where sexual harassment flourished.  The New Republic’s publisher, Hamilton Fish, has been placed on leave, after a slew of allegations of sexual harassment when he was the president of The Nation Institute.  The New Republic’s most prominent longtime editors, Leon Wieseltier, was also fired over sexual harassment allegations.

Meanwhile, two top staff members at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), have been ousted over sexual harassment allegations.  National leader Kendall Fells has resigned and Detroit leader Mark Raleigh has been fired.   Three Dartmouth professors, Todd Heatherton, Paul Whalen and William Kelley from the Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences- have been put on paid leave amid a criminal investigation into accusations of sexual harassment and misconduct.

New York City Truck Attack

truck-attack.jpg

 

 

In New York City, eight people were killed and 11 injured when a man intentionally drove a rented Home Depot pickup truck 12 blocks down a bike path along Manhattan’s Hudson River on Halloween.  The attacker, 29-year-old Sayfullo Saipov drove the truck down the bicycle lane, killing multiple people before crashing into a school bus.  He then reportedly jumped out of the car, waving a pellet gun and a paintball gun. Police say he yelled “Allahu Akbar” which means “God is Great” in Arabic before being shot  in the stomach by police.  He survived the shooting and is in custody.

Authorities say they uncovered handwritten notes near the truck that suggest Saipov had declared allegiance to ISIS and that he had planned the attack for weeks.   There is not yet any evidence that Saipov had direct connections to or support from terrorist groups.  Prosecutors say he waived his Miranda rights and confessed during a hospital interview to having carried out the attack after being inspired by ISIS videos he watched on his cellphone.  During the interview, he requested to display the black flag of ISIS in his room at Bellevue Hospital, where he is recovering from the gunshot wound in the abdomen.

Saipov made a court appearance shackled and in a wheelchair where did not ask to be released on bail.  A criminal complaint filed by federal prosecutors accuses Sayfullo Saipov of carrying out the truck attack that killed 8 and injured 12 others.  In the document, he is charged with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization.   A second count charges him with violence and destruction of a truck that was used in interstate and foreign commerce.  He faces up to life in prison if convicted of the charges.

Saipov is originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and immigrated to the United States in March 2010 and has lived in Florida, Ohio and is believed to have been most recently living in Patterson, New Jersey with his wife and three children.  He is a green card holder with a “diversity immigrant visa,” meaning he arrived in the country through a lottery program.  Authorities say he worked as a commercial truck driver in the US but had been struggling to find work.  They believe that he was radicalized by information he saw on the internet about a year after arriving in the US.

Saipov worked as an Uber driver for more than six months and recorded more than 1,400 trips for the service, an Uber spokesperson said.  Saipov was subsequently banned from the app but Uber did not immediately specify why Saipov was banned from the service.  The company is now aggressively reviewing Saipov’s Uber history, but had not found any concerning safety reports, so far.   Uber says it is cooperating with the FBI as the investigation continues.  A media outlet reported that Saipov has received four previous traffic violations.

The eight people killed in the attack were two young Americans, a Belgian mother and five Argentine tourists visiting New York City to celebrate the 30th anniversary of their high school graduation.  Police identified the victims as Darren Drake, 32, of New Milford, NJ; Nicholas Cleves, 23, of New York, NY;  Ann-Laure Decadt, 31, of Belgium; Hernan Diego Mendoza-Espino, 47, of Argentina; Alejandro Damian Pagrucco, 47, of Argentina; Herman Ferruchi, 47, of Argentina; Diego Enrique Angelini, 47, of Argentina and Ariel Erlis, 48, of Argentina.

tesla powerwalls.jpg

 

 

The blackout in Puerto Rico is now the worst in US history with at least 80 percent of Puerto Rico still without electricity, and about a quarter of the island still lacking clean drinking water.  Experts say the entire power grid needs to be rebuilt and that could take at least six months.  Congress recently approved a $36.5 billion emergency spending plan to fund the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The spending plan gives Puerto Rico access to $4.9 billion in loans. The plan also gives billions to FEMA and the National Flood Insurance Program.  A contract with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is in place to restore parts of Puerto Rico’s devastated electrical power grid.

CEO of Tesla, Elon Musk, donated a quarter million dollars of his own money to relief efforts in Puerto Rico.  He also sent a few hundred Powerwall battery packs to the island where the electric grid was destroyed by hurricanes last month.  Tesla’s Powerwall can bring individual rooftop solar installations back online for homes and small businesses.

The Powerwall battery packs were sent to help restore power to areas most needed like hospitals that have been running on unreliable generators since the storms hit.  The company also provided certified employees to help install the batteries, and Musk pledged that even more qualified workers would be sent from the mainland to train local installers and combat opportunistic price gougers on the island.  The Powerpacks are on loan for free during the crisis, paving the way for the possibility of a deal that could make that donation permanent.  The Powerpacks can serve as grid storage during Puerto Rico’s transitional period and is helpful in remote locations like Puerto Rico, where all fuel has to be brought in by cargo ship.

Musk recently held talks with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello on ways for Tesla Energy to help rebuild the power grid destroyed by the hurricanes.  Soon after the talks, shipments of another of Tesla’s products were seen at the San Juan airport.   Tesla’s Powerpack units can store large amounts of energy generated by the sun and other means, to the island.  They have the potential to bring larger parts of the grid online by working with the electric utilities and combining the energy storage systems with solar farms or other renewable energy sources.  A single Powerpack 2 battery pack has the same energy capacity (210 kWh) as almost 16 Powerwall 2 battery packs combined (each 13.5 kWh).

The 3,575-pound Powerpacks have been used in Tesla’s projects on the Hawaiian island of Kauai and American Samoa’s Ta’u to create sustainable power grids. The units could conceivably be pressed into service in Puerto Rico to help rebuild the grid using what power can be produced.  Building a brand-new energy grid based on Tesla’s tech would take far longer than a few months and would require a large number of Powerpacks.  The Kauai project, which is on a much smaller scale, depends on a network of more than 270 units.  Still, Musk has helped restore power to more than a few of Puerto Rico’s hospitals in a time of crisis.

 

 

opioid epidemic.jpg

 

 

President Trump has declared the opioid crisis- which killed 64,000 Americans last year- a public health emergency.  The order will last 90 days and can be renewed every 90 days until the President believes it is no longer needed.  President Donald Trump said “Drug overdoses are now the leading cause of unintentional death in the United States by far. More people are dying from drug overdoses today than from gun homicides and motor vehicles combined.”

The administration will work with Congress to fund the Public Health Emergency fund and to increase federal funding in year-end budget deals currently being negotiated in Congress.  Trump has directed agency and department heads to use all appropriate emergency authorities to reduce the number of deaths caused by the opioid crisis.  The administration will also launch an ad campaign so that young people can see the devastation that drugs cause on people and their lives.

The administration’s opioid plan will allow expanded access to telemedicine services, giving doctors the ability to prescribe medications to treat addiction to those in remote locations.  It also speeds the hiring process for medical professionals working on opioids and allows funds in programs for dislocated workers and people with HIV/AIDS to be used to treat their addictions.  The designation gives the administration access to the Public Health Emergency Fund, but that fund is nearly empty.

In August, Trump said that he would declare the opioid epidemic a national emergency but later said the White House had determined that declaring a public health emergency was more appropriate than a national emergency.  Many have criticized the decision to declare a public health emergency rather than a national emergency as not enough.  A commission created by the administration and headed by Gov. Chris Christie called on the president to declare a national emergency under either the Public Health Service Act or the Stafford Act. Doing so, the commission said, could free up funds for treatment, ensure wider access to the anti-overdose drug naloxone and improve monitoring of opioid prescriptions to prevent abuse.

Congress is currently spending $500 million a year on addiction treatment programs, but that money runs out next year. The administration says it will work with Congress in the budgeting process to find new money to fund addiction treatment programs. A group of senators introduced a bill that would provide more than $45 billion for opioid abuse prevention, surveillance and treatment.

From 2000 to 2015, more than 500,000 people died of drug overdoses, and opioids account for the majority of those. Recently released numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that around 64,000 people died from drug overdoses in 2016.  More than 140 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Roughly 80 percent of the world’s opioids are consumed in the US.  A report published earlier this year found that 94 percent of heroin entering the United States came from Mexico.  A large portion of the country’s fentanyl – a prescribed painkiller thought by many to be driving the opioid epidemic – derives from China and arrives in the States through US mail.

 

 

somalia truck bombings.jpg

 

 

In Somalia’s capital city of Mogadishu, two massive truck bombs exploded in quick succession on Saturday night, killing over 300 people and wounding more than 300 others.  It was the deadliest attack in Somalia since the rise of the al-Shabab militant group a decade ago and has been called “the 9/11 of the Somali people.”  The scale of the loss makes the attack, which involved a truck packed with several hundred pounds of military-grade and homemade explosives, one of the most lethal terrorist acts anywhere in the world for many years.

In the worst of the two bombings, a truck packed with explosives detonated near the Safari Hotel, collapsing the building and igniting a nearby fuel tanker. The resulting fireball set cars on fire and flattened nearby businesses and homes, trapping people under rubble.  The death toll is expected to rise as more victims continue to be dug from the rubble spread over an area hundreds of meters wide in the center of the city.

Many people are still missing and rescue workers say a definitive death toll may never be established because the intense heat generated by the blast meant the remains of many people would not be found.  Somali intelligence officials have said the attack was meant to target the capital’s heavily fortified international airport where many countries have their embassies. The massive bomb, which security officials said weighed between 1,300 pounds and 1,700 pounds, instead detonated in a crowded street after soldiers opened fire and flattened one of the truck’s tires.

Somalia’s President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed declared three days of national mourning after the attacks and while there’s been no claim of responsibility, Somalia’s government was quick to blame al-Shabab militants, who have been behind past bombings in Mogadishu.  On Sunday, hundreds of Somalis poured into the streets of Mogadishu to condemn the attacks.  President Mohamed urged troops to prepare for a “state of war” against the al-Shabab extremist group blamed for the country’s deadliest attack.

Army spokesman Capt. Abdullahi Iman said the offensive involving thousands of troops will try to push al-Shabab fighters out of their strongholds in the Lower Shabelle and Middle Shabelle regions where many deadly attacks on Mogadishu and on Somali and African Union bases have been launched.   A Somali military official who spoke on condition of anonymity said the United States is expected to play a supporting role in the new offensive.

In March, President Trump declared Somalia a zone of active hostilities, giving wide latitude to military leaders to launch airstrikes and ground assaults. In May, that led to the first U.S. combat death in Somalia since 1993, when Navy SEAL officer Kyle Milliken was killed in an assault on an al-Shabab radio station. In August, a raid by U.S. soldiers and Somali troops on a village outside Mogadishu left 10 civilians dead, including three children.

A Somali intelligence official investigating the attack told media outlets that a well-known man who vouched for the truck- persuading soldiers to allow it into Mogadishu is now in custody.  Also in custody is an accomplice driving a minivan packed with explosives that took another route but was stopped at a checkpoint near Mogadishu’s airport.  An accused mastermind of the attack may have been motivated by the deadly U.S. raid last August since he is from the village where the raid occurred.

water protectors.jpg

 

 

Hundreds of trials for activists who stood against the Dakota Access Pipeline have seen the courtroom but only two have received jail time so far.  A judge in North Dakota has sentenced two water protectors to jail time after they were convicted on misdemeanor charges over an October 2016 protest at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access pipeline.

Twenty-seven-year-old Alexander Simon, a school teacher from New Mexico was sentenced to serve 18 days in jail for obstruction of a government function.  Mary Redway, a 64 year old retired environmental biologist from Rhode Island was sentenced to six days in jail for disorderly conduct. The sentences were imposed by Judge Thomas Merrick despite the fact that the prosecution had not recommended the two serve jail time.

Journalist Sara Lafleur-Vetter, who was filming for The Guardian at the time of her arrest, was acquitted on misdemeanor charges stemming from her reporting on the protest on October 22.  Hundreds of unresolved criminal cases related to the months-long resistance at Standing Rock remain open.  Hundreds of cases have been

The Water Protector Legal Collective- an indigenous-led legal team defending activists arrested during the months-long Dakota Access Pipeline controversy is currently fighting over 427 criminal cases in North Dakota, according to the legal team’s website.  Another 272 cases have been dismissed due to lack of evidence of any crime being committed.  Morton County has put out warrants, dismissed cases, recharged water protectors, and failed to send mail or contact arrestees regarding scheduled court dates-all resulting in new warrants being issued for accused water protectors without their knowledge.

Three water protectors are currently imprisoned while awaiting trial: Red Fawn Fallis, Little Feather and Dion Ortiz.  Fallis, the most seriously charged water protector, was arrested at Standing Rock on October 27, 2016 accused of possessing and discharging a firearm as she was being restrained by police near construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Fallis, the organizer of the “Frontline Camp” was arrested during the October 27th raid on the camp when over 300 police officers—some carrying M16 rifles and clad in flak vests advanced to remove all remaining protestors.  Four officers left formation and tackled Fallis to the ground, holding her face down.  Four additional officers assisted in trying to handcuff her as she was being tased.   In the course of the raid, the police fired tear gas and concussion grenades and peppered the water protectors with rubber-tipped bullets and bean bag pellets, causing dozens of injuries.  Fallis was held in a Rugby, North Dakota jail until her transfer to a halfway house in Fargo in June 2017.  Her jury trial was originally slated to begin on July 17, but it has now been postponed until December 5.

 

ca wildfires.jpg

 

 

In California, the death toll from unprecedented wildfires has risen to at least 42, with over 400 more missing, as firefighters continue to battle 15 major blazes across the state.   At least 100,000 people have been forced to evacuate, with about 75,000 people still displaced.  Some area residents only had a brief window to escape as the fire quickly spread through neighborhoods with 20 mph winds and 40 mph wind gusts.  Search teams are using drones with three-dimensional cameras and search dogs in an effort to locate missing people in neighborhoods that have been reduced entirely to ash and rubble. The death toll has risen daily as search teams gain access to previously unreachable areas.

The state’s insurance commissioner says the unprecedented wildfires have caused over $1 billion in insured losses. The wildfires have scorched more than 200,000 acres—roughly the size of New York City.   The fires have destroyed over 8,000 homes and businesses and are now the deadliest in California since record keeping began.

The fires started Oct. 8 and 9 and steadily burning through forests, neighborhoods, farms, wineries and other infrastructure—including cell phone towers used by the state’s emergency services.  High winds and dry weather statewide have hampered efforts to contain the multiple blazes-making them the most destructive wildfires in California’s history.

Firefighters have continuously fought to contain the series of fires using air tankers, helicopters and more than 1,000 fire engines.  Hundreds of firefighters poured in to California as crews arrived from Nevada, Washington, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico, North Carolina, South Carolina, Oregon and Arizona. Other teams came from Canada and Australia. Crews were using 840 fire engines from across California and another 170 sent from around the country.

The fires have been particularly bad in Sonoma County, where 30 marijuana farms and three marijuana manufacturers have lost everything to the blazes. Cannabis cultivators cannot insure their businesses since federal law prohibits banks and financial institutions from participating in the marijuana industry, even in the eight states where recreational pot is legal, because marijuana is illegal according to federal law.  Twenty-seven wineries have reportedly suffered damaged.  Many wineries have reported either complete losses or significant damage.

California governor Jerry Brown has remained in state capital Sacramento this week, issuing emergency declarations and securing federal disaster relief.  “This is truly one of the greatest tragedies that California has ever faced,” Brown said. “The devastation is just unbelievable. It is a horror that no one could have imagined.”

 

 

 

puerto rico no water.jpg

 

 

 

 

Three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm, officials are warning the island’s health system is in dire condition as the island still has severely limited electricity and running water.  Many residents have contracted bacterial diseases, likely as a result of their exposure to contaminated floodwaters but without electricity and clean water-treatment is scarce.  The official death toll from Hurricane Maria has now risen to 45.

Hurricane Maria knocked out the water system for more than half the island’s 3.4 million people, leaving many reusing what little water they can get their hands on.  Medical experts say it is one of the factors that make them deeply concerned over a possible spike in infectious diseases in coming weeks.  Twenty of the island’s fifty-one sewage treatment plants are still out of service allowing raw sewage to contaminate rivers, streams and reservoirs.  Those without running water bathe and wash their clothes in contaminated streams, and some islanders have been drinking water from condemned wells.

Nine out of 10 homes on the island still have no electricity, leaving fans and air conditioning units unavailable to stave off mosquitos carrying illness in the storm’s aftermath.  Neither electricity nor running water is expected to be fully restored for months.  The Federal Emergency Management Agency says 64 of the island’s 68 hospitals are open but only 25 are hooked up to the power grid.  The remaining hospitals are running off of generators that aren’t meant to be used for such long periods and rely on erratic diesel supplies.

Some 11,000 U.S. military personnel have come to Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, and convoys of military vehicles carrying pallets of bottled water and meals are visible in the interior. Mosquito control units deployed in six municipalities, officials said, and five temporary biomedical waste stations have been set up.

FEMA has 16,000 federal and military assets are on the ground in Puerto Rico and about 350,000 Puerto Ricans have registered so far in the FEMA system to receive financial assistance.  Roads and highways have been washed out, hampering relief efforts to the interior of the island.  Some remote areas have not received any help since the storm.  Food and basic supplies remain scarce in the mountainous interior making the threat of waterborne diseases grow.

Authorities hope the arrival of the USNS Comfort will help ease problems at hospitals around the island.  The hospital ship has one of the largest trauma facilities in the United States and is equipped with three operating rooms, 50 ICU beds along with another 200 other beds, and some 500 medical personnel. Two MH-60 helicopters sit on its landing-pad deck.

The ship will treat patients and also provide services to other hospitals such as refilling tanks for medical-grade oxygen and re-sterilizing hospital gear.  The ship’s staff had already treated 64 patients shortly after its arrival and medical personnel expected to see many others with chronic conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and lung problems.