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Puerto Rico resembles 'a war zone.' This is what Trump must do to help

  • Puerto Rico's residents and businesses are coming together to rebuild with incredible commitment and resilience.
  • Many people on the island still have no electricity, food, water or communications.
  • Bartering is the only way to get certain necessities.
  • To avoid a humanitarian disaster we need military personnel with the right skill set to distribute resources rapidly.
President Donald Trump greets U.S Air Force airmen as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base as he makes a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
Getty Images
President Donald Trump greets U.S Air Force airmen as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base as he makes a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico.

The day after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico and left the entire island without power, many employees at my telecom company, WorldNet, traveled through the wreckage and showed up at our headquarters in San Juan ready to work.

The flooding had caused us to shut down our central office during the storm — something that is never done in the telecommunications industry. After securing our equipment at the risk of their lives, a core team rode out the hurricane huddled in the center of the concrete construction, listening to what sounded like a freight train running across the roof. As soon as it was safe, they and others from our engineering team who showed up cleaned up the area, made it safe and tried to light up the millions of dollars of equipment.

Hector Retamal | AFP | Getty Images

By the skill of our team and the mercy of God, our central office powered up immediately. We rapidly began assessing the damage to the fiber in the street. We serve more than 3,000 businesses and government agencies, including hospitals and first responders, and we knew lives were at stake.

The first few days were critical, and we continued working while many team members had no access to food and water, other than what our company was able to obtain, and were living on nonperishable foods, like potato chips and canned soup. They brought sleeping bags and actually slept at the office to work 24/7.

This situation is not unique. All over the island, Puerto Rico's residents and businesses are coming together to rebuild with incredible commitment and resilience.

Against this backdrop, President Donald Trump's visit and his earlier appointment of three-star Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan to lead the military's hurricane efforts in Puerto Rico are welcome and appreciated. Nonetheless, a big challenge remains: The aid the U.S. government and others are providing is not reaching people quickly enough. Logistical problems in our ports and airport, with fuel and electricity, and from blocked roads and traffic jams are leaving people at risk of dying from lack of food, water and medical attention.

Although the hurricane struck on Sept. 20, Puerto Rico still resembles a war zone. Buildings look bombed, and electric cables, glass debris and power poles are strewn through the streets. Many people on the island still have no electricity, food, water or communications. Bartering is the only way to get certain necessities. Given the chaos we are still struggling with, I pray every day that all of our employees will make it to and from work safely.

Once they arrive, getting our fleet fueled so we can continue connecting our customers takes hours more than it should, slowing the repairs we need to do. We are running on generators never meant to operate continuously as long as they have been, and many are breaking down for lack of maintenance parts. We're among the lucky ones. Some communications companies are going dark in different places around the island because they can't regularly get fuel for their own generators.

Puerto Ricans don't need to be coddled, but we need a helping hand to get on our feet. The biggest need I see is for more logistical help — quickly. Aid is essential and coming in daily, but we need significantly more assistance to get lifesaving resources into the hands of those who need it — ideally, from military personnel with the right skill set to do this rapidly. Otherwise, this natural disaster will quickly turn into a humanitarian disaster, as well.

— By David Bogaty, a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network and CEO of WorldNet, a voice, data, cloud and internet services firm in Puerto Rico

About YPO

CNBC and YPO have formed an exclusive editorial partnership consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These Chief Executive Networks are made up of a sample of YPO's global network of 24,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the front lines of the economy and run companies that collectively generate $6 trillion in annual revenue.

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