Four Years Later, Puerto Ricans Remember the Impact of Hurricane Maria

Puerto Rico Hurricane Maria BELatina Latinx
Photo courtesy of belatina.com

It seems like only yesterday that the deadliest storm in history devastated everything in its path across the island of Puerto Rico. On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria claimed the lives of more than 3,000 people and left billions of dollars in damage.

The hurricane brought devastating flooding, landslides, and massive destruction. The storm wiped out everything from the island’s agriculture, power lines, school buildings, homes, hospitals, and much more. Much of the destroyed property is still unrepaired four years later. Reconstruction is costing a hefty $90 billion in damages.

While the island has yet to fully recover, the memories of its citizens and Puerto Ricans worldwide live on, especially for victims and family members living in the United States.

“There are people who are still living with blue tarps, no roofs, contaminated water,” said Carmen Cruz, founder of the Silent Procession for Puerto Rico in New York four years ago, to Spectrum News NY1. 

“We’ve gotten hit by four major natural disasters, and on top of that, COVID-19. So our recovery has been made a whole lot more difficult because of the other disasters the nation has had to endure,” Cruz said.

A new analysis by the Center for a New Economy (CNE), a nonpartisan think tank based in Puerto Rico, argues that hurricane rehabilitation is just one of three “systemic shocks” challenging the territory, along with the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial crisis that began a decade ago.

Some of the most important work of rebuilding, which includes “undertaking mitigation activities to increase resilience and reduce the risk exposure of vulnerable populations, has not yet begun,” the analysis notes.

In February of this year, U.S. President Joe Biden ordered $6.2 billion earmarked for Puerto Rico mitigation projects. This was part of the $20 billion that Congress allocated to the island through the Department of Federal Housing in the wake of Maria.

Four years later, about 71% of those funds have not reached the island’s communities, Telemundo explained. Puerto Rico has received about $18 billion, according to FEMA’s Recovery Support Function Leadership Group.

The Fiscal Oversight and Management Board, which monitors Puerto Rico’s finances, has said the remaining bulk of the aid is scheduled to be disbursed after the fiscal year 2025, according to Sergio Marxuach, CNE policy director and author of the analysis.

“It is concerning that near-term economic growth depends mostly on federal transfers that we do not control,” Marxuach stresses in the report. “We are concerned that these expenditures will have a temporary positive impact on the economy, which may delay efforts to develop a medium- to long-term economic strategy or plan for Puerto Rico,” he adds.