by Kate Harveston
Over five months since Maria pounded the island territory of Puerto Rico, the hardships continue for many residents. Entire towns are still missing power, blue tarps line thousands of roofs, and hundreds of thousands of frustrated Puerto Ricans have packed up and moved to the mainland US.
Though the news no longer carries stories about the belabored territory, it is the picture of an island already struggling before the hurricane hit. Now, Puerto Rico is expected to recover without adequate aid from the mainland.
Puerto Rico has experienced an enormous exodus over the past decade. According to recent reports, more Puerto Ricans live within the US than on their island, and the migrations have continued daily since Maria. Many of the migrants cite a lack of government funding for public works, a bankrupt political system, and the lack of state sovereignty in US elections.
Further, it is comparatively easy for Puerto Ricans — who are US residents, for those of you who don’t know — to gain access to stateside living. The stability of living in Florida is often enough to motivate a move.
The movement between the US and Puerto Rico has always been open and free, manifesting in waves of migration back and forth for many residents. However, the trend has tilted towards stateside migration in the past decade, as more than a half million Puerto Ricans take up permanent resident status in states across the east coast and elsewhere.
With a struggling economy, floundering public works and the easy passage to elsewhere, Hurricane Maria has been the deciding factor for many Puerto Ricans who were already thinking of leaving. Power is still off for thousands of residents, resulting in entirely unnecessary health complications and, in some cases, death. Those who require electrical medical equipment are the hardest-hit — in many cases, they must travel for hours before reaching a hospital with functioning electricity or rely on diesel generators.
Likewise, some areas still lack fresh water and food rations. For these areas, the hurricane destroyed everything — it wrecked wells and water towers, contaminated the sources of groundwater with seawater and debris, and tore through farmland. Those used to functioning with little government assistance now face the challenge of survival in nearly post-apocalyptic conditions.
It is an accepted fact that recovery from a natural disaster can take years — decades, even. Areas of New Orleans are still in repair today, where Hurricane Katrina tore through the city and flooded the entire low-lying area. However, the wake of Maria has shown people living without necessities, a situation which has never been permitted to happen on the mainland. The emergency period of a natural disaster — which typically takes a few weeks at most — is still partially underway throughout the country.
In several ways, the island exists in a state of flux. Between the mass exodus of families — particularly those with small children — the persisting damage of Hurricane Maria, and the continued state of emergency and lack of electricity throughout the country, many Puerto Ricans have forgotten what normal life feels like.
Though the immediate trouble facing the country is obvious — no electricity, areas without plumbing and fresh water, homes and infrastructure destroyed — the long-term implications of the Puerto Rican exodus presents an even more ominous picture. Many of those who intended to move stateside temporarily see their island continuing to struggle after Maria and have begun to settle in the states. As more and more Puerto Ricans leave, the working and future working populations have dwindled accordingly, making economic rebound even tougher for Puerto Rico.
Likewise, the public support for Puerto Rico throughout the US has died down significantly since the hurricane first made landfall. Few news outlets cover stories of the prolonged suffering taking place throughout the island. While the storm has passed and life for many has returned to normal, there is a continued struggle for survival for many residents. Those trapped without electricity, sewage, or clean water, and whose friends have all left for the states, are in the same predicament as the day after the hurricane hit.
In the wake of the hurricane, thousands of stateside volunteers mobilized, traveling to Puerto Rico or sending care packages and charitable donations to those suffering or helping the situation. Though earlier this month, a power outage left close to a million Puerto Ricans without electricity, the outpouring of support has diminished rapidly in the months since the hurricane ended.
While the news no longer covers the plight of Puerto Rico, the dangers persist, and the residents of the country need our help. Donations of money or other aid are always appreciated, and increasingly necessary as fewer and fewer donations arrive. Once the hurricane passes, the cleanup truly begins, and for some Puerto Ricans, the emergency never truly resolved. Just something to keep in mind.