Although Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico over two months ago, the U.S. territory continues to reel from the tropical storm’s horrific aftermath.
More than 50 percent of the island remains without electrical power, and thousands of residents are fleeing to the U.S. mainland. The official death count following the storm was 55, but forensic researchers suggest the toll now may be much higher.
Not only did Hurricane Maria take several lives, but the storm also stole jobs, homes, businesses and medical centers. Some hospitals are even still running on emergency generators.
According to Federal Emergency Officials, these conditions are unusually tough compared to natural disasters in the past. The emergency response has been forced to focus on bare necessities such as clean water and roof tarps.
One emergency worker described the island’s current state as a “circus.”
An estimated 2,000 residents are leaving the island each day. Officials assume these residents will use their U.S. citizenship to build a new life in the U.S. state of Florida. Approximately 168,000 individuals have already fled, and 100,000 more are expected to leave by December 31.
What has the U.S. done to help its own?
Weeks ago, President Trump tossed paper towels to Puerto Rico civilians and proceeded to brag about the success of the recovery efforts. Obviously, his statements were stretching the truth if the majority of the island remains without basic needs.
Earlier in November, Governor Ricardo Rosselló asked Congress for $94.4 billion for relief. So far, Congress has approved $5 billion, but the island is in need of a more extensive recovery plan.
It seems the U.S. has all but completely turned its back on Puerto Rico. Five days after Hurricane Maria nearly flattened the island, President Trump tweeted Puerto Rico was already dealing with “broken infrastructure and massive debt.”
Puerto Rico was in fact already suffering financially. In May 2015, former Governor Alejandro García Padilla announced they would be unable to pay their $73 billion in debt.
What it seems government officials have failed to remember is in June 2016, PROMESA (“promise” in Spanish), established the Financial Oversight and Management Board for Puerto Rico to oversee the island’s budget and fiscal plans.
If Puerto Rico is a part of the U.S.—which it is—then why is the U.S. government treating it different from U.S. states?
Hurricane Maria is not the only storm to devastate the U.S. lately. Hurricane Harvey created havoc in Texas this past summer as well as Hurricane Irma in Florida.
Although tropical storm recovery is a long and difficult process no matter where the storm strikes, areas of Texas and Florida continue to make progress. These two states have the backing of their government, but it seems there is no backing for Puerto Rico.
People in Texas and Florida continue to struggle with the loss of homes, lives and possessions, but the people of Puerto Rico also struggle with the same loss. The U.S. supports Texas and Florida relief efforts because they are part of this country.
However, Puerto Rico, as a U.S. territory, is also a part of this country. Just as we cannot abandon Texas and Florida in their time of great need, we cannot abandon the citizens of Puerto Rico who are still suffering.