December 10, 2018

Puerto Rico still working toward recovery one year after Hurricane Maria

After Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, Johany Glen’s family was forced to move to the U.S. mainland when the storm damaged their home.

Glen, a study abroad representative at Webster University, said her family moved to the U.S. and was forced to move back to find jobs.

“My aunt was here [for] four months,” Glen said. “[My cousin] Alexis was more. She was here for at least six months, seven months. She didn’t go back [until] July.”

Her cousin, Alexis Ledina, said life has been challenging for her family after they returned to the island.

“The house got flooded,” Ledina said. “The winds were so high that the [debris] that was floating around ended up in my backyard. Our walls got a lot of water damage. It wasn’t that bad for us, because we had a solid house. But the neighbors houses were really badly damaged.”

Ledina said that after the storm hit, the road were blocked, there was no access to gasoline, water or electricity.

 

This graph compares the money allocated to the 2017 hurricane victims. Graphic by Joshua Phelps

Ever since the disaster struck the island, Ledina said the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) response has been lacking.

“There was a lot of people who did not get help from FEMA or is still not getting [help],” Ledina said. “They’re not responding anymore”

Angel Recci, the president of the Puerto Rican Society in St. Louis, also thinks the U.S. response to the storm could have been better.

“I think the U.S. was not even prepared for something like this,” Recci said. “The support definitely was not 100% there.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island as a category four hurricane. It was the second hurricane to hit the island since Hurricane Irma struck on Sept. 6. Due to both hurricanes striking within a few weeks time, it decimated 80 percent of the island’s agriculture and left many without homes.

A research study commissioned by the Puerto Rican government and conducted by George Washington University’s Milken Institute of Public Health revealed that nearly 3,000 people died following the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

“They didn’t die because of the hurricane, they died because afterwards they didn’t know what to do, where to go,” Ledina said.

While FEMA claims services like water, electricity and cell service have been fully restored, Ledina says the island is still recovering.

“Right now, people may say we’re kinda recovered, but we’re at a 45 percent recovery level,” Ledina said.

Ledina said the whole situation was handled poorly.

This graph compares the number of people affected by the 2017 hurricanes.

“We didn’t get the alerts and emergencies that we needed,” Ledina said. “They were blaming the economy when this had nothing to do with it. This was a natural disaster, and they were blaming the government. That doesn’t mean we get to not receive help.”

 

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed a law to phase out Section 936–a tax break to bring businesses into Puerto Rico. Companies closed, and jobs were lost, resulting in Puerto Rico’s economy crashing. The government ended up issuing bonds, which made their debt grow higher.

As of September 2018, FEMA had allocated roughly $15 billion in aid to Puerto Rico, and the Department of Housing and Urban Development approved about $18.5 billion for housing, economic stability and infrastructure for Puerto Rico.

However, according to the Puerto Rican government, it is still not enough for the island to get back up on their feet.

Last year, Puerto Rico estimated it would need around $94.4 billion to rebuild the island after Hurricanes Irma and Maria took out much of the island’s power grid.

“[President Donald Trump] wants to throw everything under the table like nothing happened,” Ledina said.  “He’s pretty much saying, ‘I went there. I did my job. If you couldn’t manage with what I gave you, then it’s your problem.’ We’re still a territory  We’re still part of the United States.”

 

 

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