Food is hard to find. There's no clean water. Most people don't have a roof. Others remain without electricity.
People are sleeping on wet mattresses covered in mold. Deadly illnesses are spreading. And the rain continues to pour over the Caribbean island recently savaged by Hurricane Maria.
Olivia Lynch saw it all first hand during the two weeks she spent in Puerto Rico. The 36-year-old emergency room nurse from Merced traveled there to help people while they begin to rebuild their homes, patch together their lives and reconnect with loved ones in the aftermath of the category four hurricane that shook the island a month ago.
"Every single power line you walk by is down," Lynch said. "We were the first people they've seen in many cases."
Lynch was one of 60 nurses sent to Puerto Rico by the Registered Nurse Response Network, an organization with National Nurses United, and was invited to speak in Washington D.C on Thursday to talk to Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, D-CA, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, D-NY, and Congressman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss. She hopes to detail the dire conditions for the people of Puerto Rico.
"I have yet to meet a person in Puerto Rico that's not affected," Lynch, 36, told the Sun-Star in an interview. "We're going to talk about the health standards; how we're not seeing a lot of help on the ground, how'd we like to be able to assist Puerto Rico and keep the limelight on it."
Lynch went door-to-door in Juntos, Aguadilla, Maunabo and Las Piedras. She cleaned people's wounds, helped open mobile clinics and led classes teaching people how to clean mold and water.
"Just because people have running water doesn't mean it's safe," Lynch said.
Bottled water isn't going to sustain the millions of people on the island long-term, Lynch said
Puerto Ricans are contracting leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, that can be caused by animal urine or dead carcasses in the water, Lynch said. The disease can cause kidney damage, respiratory disease, liver failure and in worst scenarios death, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
As of Tuesday, at least 51 people have been killed by Hurricane Maria, including some who were infected with leptospirosis. Authorities are investigating at least 74 other suspected cases of the disease.
The dirty water isn't just unsafe to drink, Lynch said. People have been contracting diseases like pink eye because the contaminated water is getting into their eyes, she said.
The black mold on mattresses is causing respiratory diseases and "it just grows and grows and grows," Lynch said, because the constant rain and moisture makes it impossible for things to dry.
The month-long buildup of garbage in the streets and the fecal matter that washed through homes and towns during the hurricane can both cause serious health problems to Puerto Ricans.
"There are whole entire communities infested with scabies," she said. "A lot of people are living closely together without the ability to stay clean."
Although some places reopened thanks to generators, Lynch said, there is a "two-hour ATM wait, four-hour store wait and two-hour gas station wait."
"This isn't just a one-time donation to the Red Cross," she added. "This is a long-term crisis."
Finding electricity in Puerto Rico is a huge issue, Lynch said, especially since applying for government aid through FEMA "is completely electronic and utterly useless to the people who need it the most." Although applying over the phone is an option too, she said, reception is hard to find and when found more calls are dropped than not.
Without electricity some pharmacies struggle to refill prescriptions, Lynch said, and people are running out of daily medications for their diabetes or high blood pressure and other issues.
People aren't able to keep anything refrigerated, she said, and things people take for granted are scarce, like diapers, formula and tampons.
"These are American citizens," Lynch said. "It feels like third-world America. It's not the America that I know. It's our job to protect them."
Monica Velez: 209-385-2486, @monicavelez21