Weeks later, Puerto Rico Faces Slow Recovery

Federal government unjustly prioritizes mainland

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Millions of Puerto Rican U.S. citizens are using dim candlelight to maneuver through their storm-stricken homes. Sometimes water drips from their bathroom and kitchen faucets, but it’s often too contaminated to use or drink safely.

Category 5 Hurricane Maria produced the biggest and longest blackout in U.S. history. More than a month after the storm rocked the U.S. territory, about 80 percent of the population, nearly 2.8 million people, is still without electricity. Approximately 1 million people do not have access to clean drinking water, and supplies are becoming more scarce.

Illustration by Owen Thomas

Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to turn away from its own territory, invalidating Puerto Ricans as equal U.S. citizens and prioritizing the states’ needs over the territory’s.

When the hurricane hit on Sept. 20 it brought winds that ravaged at a maximum sustained speed of 155 miles per hour — more than double what classifies a storm as a hurricane. This catastrophe caused a death toll of at least 51, horrible flooding and the complete devastation of about 90,000 homes.

The U.S. government’s response has been painfully slow and insufficient in its efforts to alleviate the islands’ distress. Thousands still go without adequate housing. Hospitals are struggling with the lack of electricity and are running low on medicine and other supplies.

After Hurricane Irma hit Florida in August, 18,000 outside workers rushed in to help. The same month Hurricane Maria hit, 5,300 workers rushed to Texas to restring power lines just after Hurricane Harvey, which caused a power outage one-tenth the size of that in Puerto Rico. With united efforts, nearly everyone in Texas had power within two weeks.

As for Puerto Rico, most communities still need basic resources and U.S. response is at a standstill.

Only several hundred electrical workers from the mainland have come to Puerto Rico. A majority of the work has been left to only 900 members of local crews, who are mostly using used materials.

Despite strong efforts by the Puerto Rican people, more workers are needed to help the many residents still without power. As the American Public Power Association, a state-owned network, was occupied with the states’ recovery, Puerto Rico was forced to reach out to other companies.

Currently, The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority estimates $1 billion in power grid repairs, while the territory settled for a $300 million, now canceled contract. Originally, the tiny Montana company Whitefish Energy Holdings was contracted to help with a part of these repairs, but received sharp backlash from various groups, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló was forced to cancel the power authority board’s contract, once again leaving Puerto Ricans in the dark.

After a two-week delay, President Donald Trump only worsened matters when he visited Puerto Rico and claimed the territory had “thrown our budget a little out of whack,” as if the devastation of millions of fellow American lives is irrelevant in comparison to the financial consequences of the storm’s destruction.

Trump’s inappropriate response and the U.S. government’s lack of initiative in mitigating the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria sets the precedent that U.S. territories are not as important to the federal government as the 50 states.

In response to Puerto Rico’s situation, United Nations human rights experts stated Puerto Rico’s human rights were already incredibly violated by the economic crisis and austerity policies before the hurricane. Experts also called for the U.S. and Puerto Rico to lift all regulatory and financial barriers to reconstruction.

Historically, Puerto Rico has been marginalized by the U.S. and the Puerto Rican people have been treated as less than fellow citizens. Sidelining the needs of Puerto Rico in a heightening crisis reinforces the idea that the people of Puerto Rico should be put aside until the needs of the states are met first. The longer the U.S. stands back and watches the circumstances of its own citizens worsen, the further the U.S. commonwealth falls into a humanitarian crisis.