- Two years have passed since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
- About 30,000 people still live under blue tarpaulins. Washed out roads haven’t been fixed. Neighbourhoods have been abandoned, and businesses have closed. And now Hurricane Dorian is approaching.
- Despite Congress authorizing $US20 billion of recovery funds, work to fix homes and infrastructure has moved slowly. Even before Maria, Puerto Rico was in a dire financial position, with its government bankrupt and owing $US70 billion.
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On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico like a nuclear bomb.
Two years later, as Hurricane Dorian heads its way, the US commonwealth has not fully recovered. This time, officials are hoping they will be ready, and luckily it doesn’t look like Dorian will be as brutal as Maria.
Earlier this week, 300 shelters were being prepared, and far more blankets, tarps, food, and water will be ready to use this time. The electrical grid, which was down in some places for almost a year, has also been bolstered.
But still, on August 27, almost two years since the storm, an estimated 30,000 people don’t have permanent roofs. Roads remain washed out. Neighbourhoods and businesses have been abandoned, as 4% of the population left the island.
These photos show what Puerto Rico’s slow recovery looks like, as Hurricane Dorian barrels down on the island.
Around 30,000 people in Puerto Rico are still living without solid roofs over their heads two years on from Hurricane Maria. Blue tarpaulins are a common sight.
Congress has allocated $US20 billion for work on houses and infrastructure, but as of April 2019, less than $US14,000 had been spent on the rebuild, largely because most of it was tied up in red tape. Here, a woman stands in her home without walls or a roof, in 2018.
Towns are dealing with abandoned homes as people move away. About 130,000 people left Puerto Rico after Maria. In Toa Baja, a town that experienced intense flooding during Maria, about a third of homes were abandoned, according to a local.
A FEMA assessment found almost all of the buildings in Puerto Rico were damaged by Hurricane Maria in some way.
Puerto Rico already had a struggling economy, and was more than $US70 billion in debt. But since Maria, between 5,000 and 8,000 small businesses have closed down.
As have schools. This school bus was still abandoned under a fallen tree at the end of 2018. It’s a symbol of a wider problem. In June 2018, about 300 schools permanently closed across the island. It’s not clear how many would have closed if not for Maria, but it certainly didn’t help.
Cultural amenities like sports stadiums also suffered. Here, one of Puerto Rico’s sport stadiums, Yldefonso Sola Morrales in Caguas, was so damaged that it was permanently closed after Maria. It was overgrown by weeds, and has since been demolished.
Potholes and washed out roads have made travelling over the island difficult. As one fed-up retiree told The Washington Post, after Maria, Puerto Rico’s roads had more craters “than the moon.” A survey by The Post found fixing roads was the biggest priority for Puerto Ricans.
Source: Washington Post
But even now, two years on, washed-out roads, particularly in Puerto Rico’s central highlands, are still being rebuilt.
Source: Miami Herald
This bridge was only beginning to be rebuilt in July 2019, even though it’s the only route in and out of a town called Utuado. For a while, residents could not cross the river at all after it was contaminated with human waste when a sewage pipe burst during Maria. The 2017 hurricane destroyed 20 bridges in Puerto Rico’s highlands.
The elderly, especially those living in rural, remote areas of Puerto Rico, have struggled a lot after Maria. This 85-year-old woman had to walk up a hill to her fridge covered by a tarpaulin to get food for her meals every day, more than a year after the storm hit.
Source: Miami Herald
Most hospitals in Puerto Rico have reopened. But as recently as April 2019, the hospital in Vieques, an island off the mainland, was still partially closed, causing problems for locals. This woman lives on the island and was afraid to go to the temporary hospital because there are no specialists. Mothers about to give birth also have to go to the mainland, 8 miles over the sea, to have their children.
Source: The New York Times
There are estimates that 3,000 people died after Maria. Puerto Rico’s forensic department didn’t have enough space for bodies, so extra storage was brought in by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But in September 2018, a year later, the refrigerated trailers were still parked outside San Juan.
Source: New York Magazine
The entire island lost power in the storm. For 11 months, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority struggled to get everyone back on the grid. Here, a man attaches solar lamps to his fence in 2018, nine months after Maria.
In 2019, Gov. Wanda Vazquez Garced said Puerto Rico’s electricity grid has been upgraded. This meant about 1,000 miles of new fibre optic cables laid out across the island. There are also far more generators working, which are meant to keep communication channels open.
Source: Miami Herald
But there are concerns about how it will fare with Hurricane Dorian. A power worker’s union official told AP he was concerned about the number of available workers, and about power lines that had been propped up by palm trees, in the work after Maria.
In July 2019, thousands of unused water bottles that the US government sent after the storm were seen outside San Juan. It’s the second time thousands of water bottles were wasted. The first time, it was blamed on poor communication and problems distributing the water. The US and Puerto Rico have not had a smooth relationship during this period.
Source: Business Insider
With Hurricane Dorian approaching, people were fixing their roofs, and boarding up windows, hoping the cycle would not repeat.
As Utaudo’s mayor told NRP, you can never really be prepared for a hurricane. “The important thing here is personal readiness — that you and your family are ready to survive for three weeks or a month without government help.”
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