Rain Check: Puerto Rico a Year After Hurricane Maria Made Landfall

in Beyond Our Walls by

It has been over a year since Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017. The island is still in the process of rebuilding itself. The category 4 storm resulted in the deaths of roughly 3,000 people and $45-90 billion in damage, making it the worst natural disaster to affect the island on record.

According to CNN and other news outlets, Puerto Rico experienced an island wide blackout as a result of Hurricane Maria, making it the biggest blackout in US history and second in the world. To date, 95-99% of the island’s electricity has been restored with the people of El Yunque National Forest being one of the last ones without power as reported by CNN, New York Daily News and The New York Times.

The federal and Puerto Rican governments responses to the relief efforts on the island have not gone over well with its citizens. In a Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation poll 60% of Puerto Ricans surveyed said that the federal government did a fair-poor job in response to Hurricane Maria, while 74% gave similar reviews towards the local government. Citing lack of preparation, and priority (possibly due to Puerto Rico lack of statehood as part of the reason) among other reasons.

As a result of lack of coordination by the governments, there has been an uneven distribution of relief efforts throughout the island. San Juan, Ponce, and other large cities are receiving quicker assistance from the government and thus are recovering faster than smaller towns such as Punta Santiago.

The assistance the citizens request from the government (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is ‘frustratingly slow’ and thus must rely on volunteer and church groups for assistance. Even those who receive monetary assistance to help rebuild their homes ‘often aren’t enough to cover the cost of repairing a home’.

Due to the unreliable support from its governments, many Puerto Ricans have needed to rely on non-profit and private organizations to help sustain them. Individual contributions have also helped the relief effort.

Celebrities have contributed to the relief effort  including, Lin Manuel Miranda who composed and sang ‘Almost like praying’ which featured Artists for Puerto Rico, Ricky Martin who created a fundraising page at YouCaring and Pitbull and Mark Cuban who donated their personal and NBA team planes’ respectfully to help the relief efforts. Encouraging their followers to contribute to the cause as well.

 

Puerto Rico has faced economic/financial problems for the past decade that has been worsened by the effects of Hurricane Maria. Tourism accounts for a portion of the island GDP and currently a major source of income for the island, due to its other major industries recovering from the hurricane. As Carla Campos, executive director of the Puerto Rico Tourism Company sums up the situation Puerto Rico faces during a Skift Global Forum in New York City “Tourism can be a force for good in Puerto Rico,” she said. “The government is $74 billion in debt. About 500,000 people have left Puerto Rico for better opportunities in the last 10 years. In the last five years, we’ve lost 40,000 jobs.”

Puerto Ricans are using tourism as a mean of helping rebuild its economy. Other industries such as agriculture will take months and years to recover.

Initial problems faced by tourism industry was encouraging people to visit the island. After initial news media reports of the hurricane’s effect on Puerto Rico, caused people to be hesitant about visiting the island, as the assumption was that the island was not in a capacity to have tourists. When in actuality tourism represents 10% of the island GDP. Which helps the economy as a major income, when other industries are in the process of recovering. Approximately 90% of the hotel inventory has been restored, with over 4000 restaurants being opened, along with 186 attractions.

Using this opportunity companies have organize tours that center around the rebuilding of the island, whether that be dig out Camuy Cave Park or clean up Crash Boat Beach in Aguadilla’, encouraging volunteerism on these tours as reported by Forbes.

With the Puerto Rico in the midst of its first hurricane season since Hurricane Maria made landfall, and the reconstruction still in process, the season’s effects on the island have not be foreseen and if it will affect Puerto Rico’s recovery effort.

When she is not furiously expressing herself through art and writing, Brenda can be found laughing with her friends about the randomest things. Brenda, now in her junior year, is beginning her second year on the Polaris Press staff, taking on a new role as Sports Editor. Brenda would consider herself as being a straightforward but complex-minded person. Brenda has a passion for history, superheros, and music, and she can’t wait for what the future might bring.

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