Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico in September, but now, almost three months after the storm, 3.4 million civilians remain without electricity.
Before Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc on the island, Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 hurricane, struck Puerto Rico, leaving a million U.S. citizens without power. To make matters worse, Hurricane Maria arrived right after, taking down eighty percent of the island’s transmission lines.
“There was a brand new island 24 hours after Maria hit,” said Hector Pesquera, Puerto Rico’s public safety commissioner. “Life as we knew it just collapsed. There was no food, there was no water, there was no gasoline, no diesel, no power, no banks, no ATMs … there was nothing.”
Currently, there are 700 temporary generators operating in Puerto Rico, providing the island with emergency power until the power system is rebuilt. Permanent power will not be restored until next summer.
“The last mile is going to take a long, long time … probably 62,000 power poles that have to be brought in from the United States, that have to be shipped here over water … and then you’re going to run 6,100 miles of cable,” said Lt. General Todd Semonite, the head of the Army Corps of Engineers. “The science and the engineering and the logistics to be able to make that happen is just going to take some time.”
Without power, water cannot be pumped into homes where it can be used to drink, bathe and flush toilets. As a result, some are forced to drink from contaminated streams. Many are left with no choice but to migrate out of Puerto Rico and into nearby states such as Florida. In fact, more than 139,000 Puerto Ricans have moved to Florida since the disaster.
“We need something tangible, a bill that actually answers to our need right now. Otherwise, … Congress will have to deal with a worsened humanitarian crisis, massive exodus from the island, health care problems and more,” said Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló.
The island still needs all the help it can get. Celebrities such as Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jennifer Lopez have helped significantly by promoting fundraising initiatives as well as donating large sums of money.
“There’s no shortage of compassion and goodwill for Puerto Rico among the American people,” said Lin-Manuel Miranda, composer, playwright and creator of the Broadway musicals “Hamilton” and “In the Heights.” “I remain in awe of the generosity of everyday Americans toward their fellow citizens.”
The U.S. has worked to deploy hundreds of commercial power generators and has delivered meals and water to those in need. However, many have shamed the U.S. government for not taking action and helping Puerto Rico quicker.
“The U.S. has an extraordinary ability to naturalize and accept the extreme poverty that exists even in the context of such extreme wealth,” said David Grusky, director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Stanford.
A United Nations poverty expert will be arriving in Puerto Rico in order to keep up the public and media attention and bring forward action to help recover the island as soon as possible.
However, further improvements regarding Puerto Rico are still ambiguous as there is still much work to be done to restore the island back to its previous state. Many people are working hard to improve Puerto Rico’s situation, but time is important, considering the lack of progress that has been made since September.
“Time is of the essence,” said Rosselló. “It’s a race against time.”