It’s been about six months since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. Though the island has been resilient and is doing everything in its power to get back to the way things were prior to the storm, the damage that was suffered was so insurmountable, it looks like it’s going to take decades to fully recover.
These damaging hurricanes aren’t oddities each year, unfortunately. According to storm data statistics from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 20,237 significant storms were recorded in 2016. Though that’s a slight increase from 2015 (19,172), it represented the highest number in about three years — until 2017.
Hurricane Maria caused approximately $91 billion in damages, took lives, displaced thousands, and left hundreds of thousands without power.
In a Johns Hopkins University (JHU) Forum on Race in America panel discussion, the effect that Hurricane Maria had on Puerto Rico was the feature topic.
“[It’s a] complete shift in the paradigm of emergency response,” said Marietta Vazquez, an infectious disease specialist from Yale and one of the panelists. “What you have is just people, regular citizens, who were able to organize and establish an effective grassroots response that was timely and replicable. They were able to deliver life-saving supplies and medication… in a way that government officials and federal agencies could not do.”
Here’s a look at what transpired in Puerto Rico over the last few months:
- September 20, 2017 — Hurricane Maria makes landfall at 6:15 a.m. as a category 4, with winds blowing between 145 mph and 155 mph. President Donald Trump issued a state of emergency for Puerto Rico on September 21.
- October 29, 2017 — Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Roesello orders to cancel a $300 million contract for rebuilding the island’s energy infrastructure.
- January 25, 2018 — According to several reports, 3,894 survivors remain in Puerto Rico and across 42 states via the TSA program. A subsequent report stated that 1,500 survivors resided in Florida, as well as more than 800 in Puerto Rico.
- February 9, 2018 — President Trump signs into law a third disaster recovery page in which it is expected that the island will receive more than $16 billion — totaling $89.4 billion for disaster relief efforts.
One of the worst parts about these major storms is that it’s not always just one big storm and then silence. Hurricanes can often spawn multiple tornados, causing even more damage and destruction wherever they strike. For example, in 1992, Hurricane Andrew spawned 62 additional tornadoes that continued to strike the Bahamas and Florida even days after the hurricane’s landfall.
Individual homeowners are encouraged to have durable windows and doors installed in their homes with impact-resistant glazing systems capable of withstanding hurricane-force winds traveling more than 100 miles per hour. Without these protective windows, homeowners will be forced to spend between $300 and $700 just to replace a single window (national average for window replacement is approximately $500).
Sadly, the physical damage and cost is far from the worst aspect of this storm. Puerto Rico’s suicide rate has significantly increased after Maria struck the island.
According to Puerto Rican Department of Health, the number of suicides spiked nearly 30% since the September at 253 suicide cases, the highest rate since 2013. The majority of the suicide victims, approximately 86%, were men between the ages of 55 and 69 years old.
Additionally, 9,645 people admitted to calling the suicide hotline over the past few months, an 83% increase from last year.
“It’s normal for there to be family conflicts, but when you add the stress of more than five months without power, without food, living patterns change,” said Julio Santana Marino, Psychology Professor from Puerto Rico’s Universidad Carlos Albizu. “It makes it harder for people to manage daily life.”
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has come under major criticism for its failure to provide assistance to the island during such dire situations. The federal agency has failed to respond to Puerto Ricans searching for respite amid urgent situations. Additionally, FEMA has consistently rejected the pleas of individuals who don’t have a deed to their home.