Editorials

A year after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still reeling

FEMA workers have been on the island since the first week of the storm
FEMA workers have been on the island since the first week of the storm AP

We couldn’t know it a year ago today, as Hurricane Maria churned through

Puerto Rico, that her horrific Category 4 power would so hobble a proud island, killing 2,975 people and sending thousands of others to seek shelter in Florida.

We couldn’t know that the Trump administration’s response, mired in politics, accusations, denials and rejected facts, would resonate all the way to the White House and rattle Trump’s presidency even today.

On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria’s assault on Sept. 20, 2017, the Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald, with support from The Rockefeller Foundation, are publishing a comprehensive special report called Puerto Rico: The Forgotten Island, to examine what went wrong in the aftermath of Maria, which hit the island while we Floridians were distracted and on the run from Hurricane Irma.

The project’s goal is to make sense of what happened, and why the United States’ rescue response to the tragedy seemed inadequate — despite the president’s assertions otherwise, even as recently as last week.

Why did we fail Puerto Ricans so badly that they felt abandoned and compelled to remind the mainland: “We’re Americans, too. Remember us?”

Hurricane Maria sent Puerto Rico into a societal and economic darkness with unimaginable human suffering, the island’s infrastructure crumbling under the powerful wind and water. Our project reveals that darkness still falls over many sections of the island.

A group of reporters, columnists, photographers and videographers from both newsrooms went to see firsthand how the island is planning its recovery.

What they found is not pretty. Twelve months after Maria, Puerto Rico remains a shadow of its former self.

Today, “most of the island has settled into a semblance of normalcy, and the legendary rush-hour traffic jams in the relatively prosperous San Juan metro area have returned, somewhat worsened because traffic signals at some busy intersections work only intermittently, if at all,” writes reporter Andres Viglucci.

He adds: ”But appearances are deceptive. Stability of any kind — economic, political, demographic, in daily life — remains a scarce commodity in Puerto Rico.”

Power has been restored almost everywhere, an effort funded almost wholly by the federal government. Many damaged shopping centers and businesses have yet to reopen, and the jobs they provided hang in limbo. Tourism, the backbone of the island’s economy, is dormant.

Consider this stunning finding from analysis by Miami Herald parent McClatchy of public data for FEMA’s housing assistance program: As of June 1, Maria survivors in Puerto Rico received an average of $1,800 for repair assistance. In contrast, survivors of Hurricane Harvey in Texas last year got $9,127. Why the disparity?

Yet, Kirstjen M. Nielsen Secretary of Homeland Security writes in an Opinion piece published today on these pages, that FEMA has done the best it can under difficult conditions and that $4.6 billion in assistance has been spent on the island’s’ recovery.

FEMA’s response to Maria in Puerto Rico was not only unprecedented in scope, but it was also undertaken amidst multiple catastrophic disasters across our nation — Hurricane Harvey in Texas; Hurricane Irma and Maria in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Florida and Puerto Rico; and the extraordinary wildfires in California.”

Tell that to Puerto Rico’s 3.3 million residents, still reeling a year later.

To read Puerto Rico: The Forgotten Island, visit www.MiamiHerald.com

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