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The Devastation of Puerto Rico

The damage to Puerto Rico from Hurricane Maria is staggering [1]:

“There will be no food in Puerto Rico,” Mr. Rivera predicted. “There is no more agriculture in Puerto Rico. And there won’t be any for a year or longer.”

Hurricane Maria made landfall here Wednesday as a Category 4 storm. Its force and fury stripped every tree of not just the leaves, but also the bark, leaving a rich agricultural region looking like the result of a postapocalyptic drought. Rows and rows of fields were denuded. Plants simply blew away.

In a matter of hours, Hurricane Maria wiped out about 80 percent of the crop value in Puerto Rico — making it one of the costliest storms to hit the island’s agriculture industry, said Carlos Flores Ortega, Puerto Rico’s secretary of the Department of Agriculture.

Meanwhile, many places on the island remain cut off from the outside world, and they are in desperate need of assistance [2]:

Four days after a major hurricane battered Puerto Rico, leaving the entire island in a communications and power blackout, regions outside San Juan remained disconnected from the rest of the island — and the world. Juncos, in a mountainous region southeast of the capital that was slammed with Maria’s most powerful winds, remains isolated, alone, afraid.

The damage is so extensive that some people there are saying [3] that the island has been set back by decades:

Puerto Rico’s nonvoting representative in the U.S. Congress said Sunday that Hurricane Maria’s destruction has set the island back decades, even as authorities worked to assess the extent of the damage.

“The devastation in Puerto Rico has set us back nearly 20 to 30 years,” said Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer Gonzalez. “I can’t deny that the Puerto Rico of now is different from that of a week ago. The destruction of properties, of flattened structures, of families without homes, of debris everywhere. The island’s greenery is gone.”

Providing relief to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands has been made more difficult because of the damage to ports and airports, but that makes it all the more critical that the federal government responds to the disaster as swiftly and urgently as possible. The extraordinary amount of damage that the hurricane and flooding have done has to be taken into account when deciding how much aid funding will be required. I said earlier today that Puerto Rico will need a major relief effort [4], but beyond that it is going to need a large infusion of reconstruction funding to allow for a quick recovery. In the meantime, the administration and Congress need to address the devastation of Puerto Rico with the same attention and concern that they would show if a similar disaster occurred on the mainland, and the public should demand no less from them.

Update: Puerto Rico’s medical services are also under severe strain [5] in the wake of the hurricane:

Puerto Rico’s medical services are in critical condition in the wake of Hurricane Maria.

The strongest storm to hit the island in decades has left hospitals flooded, strewn with rubble and dependent on diesel generators to keep the neediest patients alive.

The precarious shape of the island’s medical facilities is adding to the misery and devastation of this U.S. territory, whose 3.4 million residents are American citizens. For some, the only option is to evacuate to the United States for treatment.

5 Comments (Open | Close)

5 Comments To "The Devastation of Puerto Rico"

#1 Comment By Fred Bowman On September 25, 2017 @ 11:04 am

Complicating the destruction in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is the inability to quickly get needed help to get necessary services back in place. Unlike the US mainland where power crews, communication workers, Red Cross workers and others and their equipment can come in from others states to help to out, it made much more difficult due to the fact that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are island territories which greatly complicates the Relief and Rebuilting efforts.

#2 Comment By AtomicZeppelinMan On September 25, 2017 @ 1:50 pm

Statehood for Puerto Rico. Now.

#3 Comment By Grumpy Old Man On September 25, 2017 @ 2:40 pm

We should have given them independence a long time ago, but we didn’t. They are part of the country, and they must be helped.

What’s more, if we don’t help quickly, the island will empty out, and the people will move to the mainland.

#4 Comment By mrscracker On September 25, 2017 @ 2:54 pm

Thank you so much for this. The scenes on TV are terribly sad. Ditto for Mexico City, Texas & parts of Florida. West Indies, too. It’s been a rough month or so for sure.

#5 Comment By Scott Carter On September 25, 2017 @ 11:50 pm


(BTW, nice to hear from you)

I suspect that it’s been rather long time since a majority of the inhabitants of the island wanted independence (in notable contrast to e.g. the Philippines). The last clear pro-independence statement I know of was a (unanimous!) vote in the House of Delegates in 1914. Perhaps you know of relevant later data?

AFAIK the first time anything that might be called a plebiscite happened was the 1967 referendum, which as you probably know gave about 60% for continued commonwealth status, 40% for statehood, and less than 1% for independence.