Home Recovery How Hurricane Maria Still Impacts Puerto Rico Nine Months Later

How Hurricane Maria Still Impacts Puerto Rico Nine Months Later

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By Anna Krelovich
Special Contributor, EDM Digest

Hurricane season has begun in the Atlantic, yet many in Puerto Rico are still feeling the repercussions of Hurricane Maria from last year.

When Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico in September of 2017, devastation ravaged the island as all 3.4 million residents were hurtled into immediate crisis. Already facing a recession before Maria’s destruction, this U.S. territory is sure to be haunted by Maria, the worst storm the island has faced in 80 years.

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Also, the number of deaths may have been higher than officially reported. The official death toll of 64 was disputed by a recent Harvard study that suggested that as many as 4,600 people could have died during Maria’s rampage.

What Were the Immediate Effects of Hurricane Maria?

Hurricane Maria took a crippling toll on the already indebted island, causing as much as $94 billion in damages. Maria completely destroyed the island’s power grid, leaving all 3.4 million residents without electricity.

Less than half of the island had access to clean tap water. Almost all residents lost their cell phone service.

An estimated 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s agriculture was destroyed, a loss of $780 million dollars. Supplies of food, medicine and fuel were all at critically low levels.

Lasting Impacts of Maria

Some 11,000 residents of Puerto Rico are still without power in what is now the longest blackout in U.S. history. Officials estimate it may take another two months to completely restore power to the island, well into the 2018 hurricane season.

Puerto Rico now imports 95 percent of its food supply from the U.S., a 10 percent increase from the previous 85 percent of imported food items. The washing away of rich topsoil and the lack of gas for tractors left many farmers unable to replant their crops.

More than half of the island’s coffee plants were ruined. It will take an estimated three years to return to the same level of production as before Maria struck.

Tourism in Puerto Rico has begun its long road to recovery as hotels and cruise ship ports gradually reopen. Nonetheless, tourist destinations face difficulties obtaining gas and food.

The El Yunque National Forest was devastated by the hurricane; trees were stripped of their leaves and the ground was covered with thick mud. Despite dedicated cleanup efforts, the forest is still only partially open for tourists.

Investing in travel to Puerto Rico is one of the most beneficial ways to boost Puerto Rico’s economy. Staying in hotels, eating at restaurants and visiting local sites all bring money back into the island’s circulation.

Impacts of Hurricane Maria on Physical and Mental Health

The increase in the estimated number of deaths caused by Hurricane Maria is largely due to the difficulty in accessing medical care. A shortage of IV bags, caused by the closure of medical supply factories in Puerto Rico, may have indirectly led to thousands of patient deaths caused by the lack of appropriate medical treatment.

Doctors also report an increase in waterborne diseases like leptospirosis as Puerto Ricans turn to contaminated water sources in lieu of clean tap water. Since Puerto Rico is experiencing a shortage of doctors, it is more difficult than ever for the healthcare system to keep track of all patients.

As a result, many patients are lost in the system. This problem, coupled with poor data collection and underreporting of medical issues, has led to the current health crisis in Puerto Rico.

In addition, research shows that natural disasters have a negative impact on the mental health of those affected by the storm. In Puerto Rico, many residents who never reported mental health issues before now report feelings of anxiety or depression, while those who previously experienced mental health problems report worsening conditions due to inability to access treatment and medication.

For example, there was a 246 percent increase in calls to the island’s only suicide hotline and a 29 percent increase in suicides in 2017. Of the suicides that occurred in 2017, 38 percent of them occurred from September to December.

Puerto Rico Inhabitants Still Need Aid

Total recuperation from natural disasters can take years. In Puerto Rico, many of the poorest inhabitants are still struggling to recover. As we enter a new hurricane season with as many as nine hurricanes predicted in the Atlantic, it is hard to imagine that revitalization can happen without more help.   To learn more about different ways to help Puerto Rico visit this site.