Today, nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria slammed into the island, Puerto Rico should be in the midst of a recovery process, instead power is out for the entire island.
The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, reports that 100 percent of the electricity distribution system remains damaged, leaving 3.4 million Americans in darkness. Of the 69 hospitals on the island, 58 went without fuel or power for more than a week.
The cellular phone network is recovering, but remains almost entirely non-existent. More than 50 percent of the islanders (more than 1 million people) can’t access clean water.
The official death toll from the floods and winds brought by Hurricane Maria was 16 — each a tragedy, but a number that was blessedly small for such a strong storm. However, the failure to respond quickly means that number will rise as vulnerable people will start to die from exposure to the persistent tropical heat, disease and the lack of medical care.
Hurricane Maria was simply the knockout blow to the island’s already enfeebled economy. The most consequential damage from the storm was the failure of the electricity grid. Even without extreme weather, the grid was already grinding to a halt under the weight of decades of mismanagement, bankruptcy and an aged, dirty fuel mix.
Now with Maria’s devastation, the 3.4 million U.S. citizens of Puerto Rico face their direst challenge yet, losing hope of aid and long-term recovery. This catastrophe may solidify the mass exodus from Puerto Rico, unless long-term reconstruction commitments are made.