Hurricanes Irma and Maria were two of the largest and costliest hurricanes to ever strike the Caribbean. Among the countries that lost lives and suffered from catastrophic damage were: Barbuda, Saint Barthélemy, Saint Martin, Anguilla, the Virgin Islands, Cuba, Haiti and Puerto Rico. Months later, residents are still dealing with the aftermath.
The small island of Barbuda saw complete and total devastation, with more than 90 percent of buildings and vehicles destroyed. The island has been described by some as an uninhabitable ghost town but a small percentage of the island’s residents have returned home.
Puerto Rico was the hardest hit, with an official death toll of 64 but a probable death toll of over 1000. In addition to loss of life, the storm left most of the island without power. Although power has been restored to some on the island, many are still in the dark. As a result of the devastating damage and slow recovery, many Puerto Ricans have fled to Florida.
Puerto Rico’s challenges are compounded by existing economic challenges, like a crushing debt load, a steady loss of population, and a lack of economic growth. Financial advisor Dean Myerow describes, “It’s an absolute humanitarian crisis on top of the existing economic crisis that was there before.”
The United States government has been under fire for not responding to Puerto Rico’s suffering in the same way they responded to suffering in Texas after Harvey or Florida after Irma. There were certainly significant delays on the ground to actually seeing any relief from organizations like FEMA. Puerto Rican mayors had to give regular impassioned pleas for help. The governor of Puerto Rico asked the federal government for $94.4 billion in aid. So far, FEMA has approved $660 million. Congress is preparing to unveil a disaster aid package of $81 billion, a number woefully short for Puerto Rico, especially since those funds will also go towards relief in places like Texas and Florida and areas hit by devastating wildfires. Trump cabinet officials will be visiting Puerto Rico this week to assess recovery.
Where the government has failed, many people have stepped forward to help. Celebrities have donated money and used their platforms to raise awareness and inspire fundraising efforts. Jennifer Lopez donated $1 million from the proceeds of her Las Vegas show. Chef José Andrés has served millions of meals to the people of Puerto Rico, supported by donations.
As the news cycle continually turns over with new worries and horrors each day, the struggles of Puerto Rico and other Caribbean islands can be easily forgotten by many. For the devastating victims of the hurricanes, though, the story is still all too real. The situation on the ground may not be as bad for many as it was in September but it is still not good.