Hurricane Maria Update – Just in time for 2018 Hurricane Season

It’s been over six months since Hurricane Maria battered Puerto Rico, and while it isn’t in the news as often, the effects are still being dealt with each day on the island. Here’s a smattering of what is still happening:
  • Food and clean water distribution by FEMA
  • Roof repair and debris clean-up by the Army Corps of Engineers
But this longer list, is what still needs to happen:
  • Money – Congress gave Puerto Rico AND the US Virgin Islands almost $16 billion, less than 20% of what was estimated necessary for the Puerto Rico island alone.
  • Electricity – Right now, 7% of the island is still without electricity, with no expected date for restoration. And while that seems like a small number, when you consider the urban vs rural areas of the island, it is a large portion of land that does not have power. Locals argue that the power grid was a mess before the storm, but the bottom line is, schools don’t have power, and basic needs are not being met.
  • Houses – Almost 90,000 homes were destroyed by the hurricane and over 375,000 were damaged. Houses in Puerto Rico are not built to sustain the strength of a hurricane like Maria. FEMA is still sending vouchers to over 3,500 Puerto Ricans who are living in hotels or other temporary lodgings throughout the country. And FEMA is slowly approving loans for rebuilding. Very slowly. Less than 40% have been approved because the homeowners do not have deeds or proof of ownership, which is required by FEMA.
  • Mental Health – After any disaster, there is a need for counseling. Puerto Rico is now facing a suicide crisis. More than triple the number of suicides in the past six months than before, more than a 250% increase in calls to the crisis hotline. While the hurricane may not have been the determining factor, it certainly pushed people over the edge. The feelings of helplessness and despair are only increasing the longer this remains a problem.
  • Population to return – People are leaving the island. Over 250,000 people have already left Puerto Rico, with more to follow. Demographers are worried that those who left temporarily will not return, just like many have still not returned to New Orleans 12 years after Katrina. This exodus has put a strain on other areas, mostly in Southern Florida, where more than 10,000 more children have entered the public-school system. The estimated loss of population due to emigration is expected to reach 14%.
Nothing done now will be able to fix the original problem which was a lack of preparedness. But the longer this drags out, the longer people suffer, the harder it will be to prepare for the future. Puerto Rico is not a lost cause, but as we are now over six months past the initial strike of the hurricane, it’s time to start thinking about the next hurricane season, which is just around the corner.
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