The Destroyed Territory

Puerto Rico’s Devastation


Hector Retamal

People sit on cars in a flooded street.

Janet Han, Photojournalist

Following the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey and Irma, Hurricane Maria recently wrecked havoc upon Dominica, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the US Virgin Islands, and the Turks and Caicos. Of these islands, Puerto Rico suffered some of the worst damage, but recovery efforts are not going well.
According to The Verge, Puerto Rico, an American territory, currently has 3.4 million American citizens that are without power. The same source states that 80% of the transmission lines that bring power produced in power plants to the distribution centers are destroyed, not to mention the majority of the local power lines. The outlook is grim, as the mayor of San Juan reports that it will take up to four to six months to restore power.
Reuters reports that hospitals and government facilities are barely functioning through generators, but they have a limited lifespan as diesel supplies are growing scarce. Meanwhile, the death toll is only rising. The hurricane itself caused 16 deaths, and two more people on life support passed away when their hospital ran out of diesel. This lack of power is causing billions of dollars of economic loss, harming recovery efforts, and proving disastrous for Puerto Rico.
Another reason that Puerto Rico is struggling to repair itself, however, is due to the island’s location. Because it is an island, supplies and donations are a struggle to deliver. The ports are only open during the daytime and the airports are backed up severely. Ken Buell, the director of Emergency Response and Recovery with the US Department of Energy, says that at one point San Juan Airport had an 11-hour delay for planes to land and unload the supplies that they were bringing.
CNN reported that “10,000 containers of supplies — including food, water, and medicine — were sitting Thursday at the San Juan port”. These supplies cannot be distributed because “diesel fuel shortage and a tangle of blocked roads mean the distribution of supplies is extremely challenging”. They added that people are “waiting hours in line to get gas, food and cash” while “gas stations and supermarkets are rationing supplies” and “banks are running low on cash”.
Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz described her experience with bringing a group of elderly to safety, saying they had to “transfer 11 of them in near-death conditions, no food, no water, no electricity and really the sanitary conditions were deplorable”. NBC News also provided information on how critical the situation is in Puerto Rico, quoting a resident. She said the “nights are excruciating, there’s screaming, there are gunshots” and that “it’s [so] hard to sleep right now [that] I haven’t slept in 48 hours.” The resident pointed out a disturbing lack of authority figures, stating that she “feel[s] like [she’s] forgotten” while dead animals are “floating around,” creating a “crazy” smell.
No one is quite sure how to assist an island that is so destroyed. Lawyer and volunteer Armando Prieto explained the situation by stating that “the scope and magnitude of what’s going on is so large that I’m not exactly sure that they really know where to start”. Frances Colon, the founder of a non-profit organization, agrees by pointing out that “it’s been a week and communication is down and there are towns that haven’t been reached” because “the disaster is bigger than everyone.” Upon hearing the news, Alice Ding (10) also pointed out that
“compared to the other areas affected by hurricanes recently, it’s really surprising and upsetting how little support Puerto Rico seems to be receiving”.
It may be months before Puerto Rico can make significant progress in recovery. National awareness across the United States will be crucial in helping the American territory rebuild itself. The donations and aid being provided for Puerto Rico are nowhere near enough. Furthermore, the root of the problem is how difficult communication and transportation are across the entire island, hindering efforts to try and repair the damage.