It’s been over a year since Hurricane Maria touched land near Yabucoa Harbor in Puerto Rico, and returning to normal life still isn’t a reality for many citizens. The storm ransacked the U.S. territory, leaving the island powerless and flooded. Today, much of the island is still in ruins. The condition of many homes, within the most devastated areas, would have you believe that the storm just struck last week. There are still whole neighborhoods that are almost entirely flattened, and families living in houses without doors and windows. Although the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has managed to restore power to the island’s residents, running water is still just a dream for many. The state of things begs the question: why did the relief effort fail?
Almost immediately after Maria passed over the island talk of relief efforts began, however, those efforts didn’t come quickly enough or in the necessary quantity. FEMA promised far more materials than they actually ended up supplying. Of the 500,000 tarps that were to be provided for temporary home repairs, only 150,000 were distributed and were sent months after they were desperately needed. Of the 30 million meals that were expected to be sent to Puerto Rico by a company in contract with FEMA, only 50,000 were sent, leading to the contract’s cancellation due to it being made with an inexperienced caterer rather than a disaster relief program. It was very clear FEMA wasn’t prepared to handle the situation, and the fact that 2017’s hurricane season brought multiple destructive storms didn’t make managing the disaster any easier.
Where FEMA’s relief fell short, organizations like the American Red Cross and Humanity First and celebrities like Ricky Martin and Lin-Manuel Miranda stepped in to help fill in the gaps and fulfill some of the funding, food, and medical needs of the population. However, the government’s lackluster reaction to the island’s disaster has many angry citizens asking why the situation was handled so poorly. This upset isn’t new, and comes with the overall criticism that the United States doesn’t give its territories proper support in times of crisis, whether it be environmental or economic.
Many have taken to criticizing President Donald Trump’s administration and how it handled the storm’s aftermath. Mayor of San Juan, Yulín Cruz, has been very clear about how the president failed the Puerto Rican people. She is among many critics who blame his neglectful actions for the deaths of nearly 3,000 Puerto Ricans during the wait for help from the U.S.
“The Trump administration led us to believe they were helping when they weren’t up to par, and they didn’t allow other countries to help us,” Cruz told CNN. “Shame on President Trump.”
Trump has not been kind to Cruz, calling her “ a totally incompetent mayor” and disagreeing sharply with her statements that explained how the U.S. failed Puerto Rico in their time of desperation. However, many have been quick to notice the drastic difference in response times and aid between the aftermath of Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Florence, the latter having hit the Carolinas in September, 2018. The Trump Administration has stated that the difference is due to Puerto Rico’s infrastructure being poor to begin with, making relief efforts slower and more difficult. With North and South Carolina’s power being almost entirely restored within a month of disaster, compared to Puerto Rico’s almost year-long wait, it is clear to see that there is a disparity between the U.S.’s states and territories. This leads to the perception that the United States wants land, but not the people who come with it.
by Robyn Forbes