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Post-Maria Puerto Rico Still Needs Aid

Although+over+a+year+has+passed+since+Hurricane+Maria+struck+Puerto+Rico%2C+many+areas+are+still+greatly+damaged.
Although over a year has passed since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many areas are still greatly damaged.

Although over a year has passed since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many areas are still greatly damaged.

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Although over a year has passed since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many areas are still greatly damaged.


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By Kelly Christ

Although over a year has passed since Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, many areas are still greatly damaged. (Courtesy of Flickr)

On Sept. 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria first made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm. The damage that the island sustained was catastrophic. When the storm reached land, meteorologists observed sustained winds of up to 155 miles per hour. The storm knocked out power all over the island. Following the storm, the country’s population faced a steep decline. Amongst the incredible damage Puerto Rico faced from the storm, the lack of response given to Puerto Rico lead to a devastating and unprecedented humanitarian crisis.

One year later, Puerto Rico is still facing major consequences from the hurricane. Power restoration has taken months. Thousands of businesses have not been able to recover. The slow reconstruction process brings about many questions regarding where the government went wrong, and what must change to prevent another such catastrophe in the future.

Puerto Rico is classified as an unincorporated territory of the United States. This label is likely one of the many reasons that the island did not receive as much attention and assistance as it should have. One day after landfall, President Trump commented on the devastation from the storm, telling reporters that the island had been “obliterated.” However, just two days later, President Trump held a political rally in Alabama and neglected to mention the struggling island or any relief efforts in place to alleviate these concerns. This kind of response is unacceptable. Puerto Rico, although a territory, is still a part of the United States. Its residents are American citizens and they must be treated as such.

Perhaps the most frightening instance of the neglect hindering Puerto Rico’s recovery is the miscommunication of the storm’s death toll. Officials initially claimed the number to be around 64 people after the storm took place. However, after a comprehensive study by researchers at George Washington University, the death toll was found to actually be 2,975 casualties. This massive inconsistency is a frightening representation of the lack of communication and concern for the well-being of Puerto Ricans.

Puerto Rico remains in a fragile state one year after Maria’s landfall. Some traffic lights and electronic toll plazas are inoperable. Many homes, as well as businesses in many regions, sit destroyed and abandoned. Now, the major concern amongst residents on the island is the possibility of another threatening storm hitting yet again.

One of the reasons why the damage from Maria was so extensive was the instability of much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure prior to the storm. The island’s power grid suffered from “poor funding, neglect and outdated hardware” for many years before the hurricane. Power was not completely restored until August of 2018, 328 days after the storm first hit. As many of these repairs were meant to be temporary, the island is incredibly vulnerable to another storm should one make landfall this hurricane season.

It is imperative that the United States government provide the financial aid necessary to put preventative measures in place. Without these, the island could very well be completely and irreversibly destroyed should a hurricane as strong as Maria hit again. Following Hurricane Maria, thousands of Puerto Ricans migrated to the United States mainland, with Florida being a popular destination. One major aspect of Puerto Rican migration is the ability to vote in national elections. The current status of Puerto Rico as a territory means that its residents cannot vote in United States elections, despite being United States citizens. Hurricane Maria brought attention to several major issues in the United States government’s treatment of the island. Puerto Ricans deserve just as much attention and response as any other group of United States citizens.

The United States must take preventative measures against major issues such as power outages and access to clean water, which often result from devastating natural disasters. The first step would be to provide financial assistance to repair Puerto Rico’s electrical grid in a more permanent and stable manner so that it can withstand damage from weather and provide reliable service for residents. Measures should also be in place to prevent catastrophic flooding in the event of a storm in order to protect homes and businesses.

Puerto Rico faces an immense amount of inequality due to its status as a United States territory. The recovery effort after Hurricane Maria has led to a further push to achieve statehood for the island. At the very least, the United States government needs to provide protection from natural disasters and the damage and casualties they can bring about. Even with territorial status, Puerto Ricans are United States citizens and deserve protection of their intrinsic human rights.

 

Kelly Christ, FCRH ’21, is an English and psychology major from Manhasset, New York.

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