On Wednesday, September 6 2017, Puerto Rico received a glancing blow from Hurricane Irma that caused destruction on half the island. The category five storm passed just north of Puerto Rico. Even with the storm not making a direct hit, the island was hammered with rain and wind.
Hurricane Irma had already barreled through the Caribbean, leaving destruction in its wake. Florida residents anxiously waited to see whether the storm would turn before making landfall. And not far behind Irma, Maria loomed. If Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma was bad, things got worse when Hurricane Maria struck the island on September 20.
The following article looks closely at the first part of the Puerto Rico hurricane damage. It’s the first part of our coverage of the combo of natural disasters that struck the island.
What Happened to Puerto Rico
The residents of Puerto Rico were warned by the government that the Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma storm could be devastating to the island, and were told to evacuate if they were able. Prior to the storm making landfall, the Puerto Rican government began to evacuate residents who lived in the northern and eastern parts of the island. The storm was expected to cause significant flooding in those areas.
Despite the warnings, many families choose to ride out the storm, since it was not expected to cause major damage throughout the island. Churches opened their doors to welcome the residents that were evacuated from their homes both prior and after the storm. Grocery store shelves were described as being bare as residents prepared for the worst-case scenario.
The government had already stated that the airport would be closed for several days following the storm, and that affected residents could expect to not have power for four to six months. Hurricane Irma center passed fifty miles north of the island. The majority of damage to the island was caused by the storm surge. Even without a direct hit to Puerto Rico, the sustained wind speeds of 185 mph caused power outages to approximately one million residents. Area hospitals were forced to utilize generators, and many roads were washed away in the flooding.
The Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rossello, attributed three deaths due to the Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma storm. Aid groups were unable to land at the airport in order to bring supplies, and give assistance to the people of Puerto Rico following the storm. The US Coast Guard started to assess the damage that Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma had caused. Captain Eric King stated that “Our first priority is ensuring the safety of lives and helping anyone in distress.”
Worst Affected Areas
While Puerto Rico had significant damage following Hurricane Irma, other islands were more substantially impacted. The Virgin Islands was the most severely impacted of the islands. It is located just east of Puerto Rico and was reported as having extensive damage. The major hospital on the US side of the island was completely destroyed by the strong winds. The flooding and rain on Puerto Rico, which continued through Saturday following the storm, cut off parts of the island. Downed power lines and blocked roadways were commonplace. The majority of the damage was located in the northeastern part of the island.
Impact in Numbers
Over one million residents were without power following the storm. Roughly half of the island’s hospitals were forced to rely on generators in order to keep the lights on. Three deaths were attributed to Puerto Rico Hurricane Irma. The economic impact to Puerto Rico is devastating. Even before the storm, the island had a multi-billion dollar debt that it was unable to pay. With an extended period of not having power anticipated, many businesses on Puerto Rico will not be able to operate. This will only generate more debt that the island cannot pay back. The economic future is dire.
What Made Puerto Rico Unique as a Touristic Destination
Puerto Rico is referred to as “The Land of a Thousand Blessings.” There are two general types of activities in Puerto Rico that appeal to tourists. Some tourists come to visit the island to see the city sights and relax on the beach. Other tourists are looking to explore the outdoor adventures that are offered by the island. The coastline has several beach coves that are all unique. There is also snorkeling and scuba diving activities available on the island. Puerto Rico has several coral reefs just off the coastline to explore. Whereas the center of the island has lush mountains that offer hikers scenic views of the landscape. The island also offers tourists the opportunity to explore underground caves. The capital, San Juan, has several tourist attractions. The city offers historic attractions in the Old City. There are many family-friendly events and attractions available in the New City.
Puerto Rico is facing an uphill battle recovering from both a natural disaster and an economic disaster. While 80% of the residents have drinking water, 70% of the island is still without power following Hurricane Irma and then Hurricane Maria. It is estimated that 10% to 15% of the residents may have already left the island due to the monumental nature of this disaster. This means that the tax revenue is expected to be half of what was originally forecasted for the year. This would mean that the government would be forced to make cuts to its budget. There is an estimated $780 million lost in crops due to the hurricanes. This means that to feed the residents, food will have to be transported to the island. The future of Puerto Rico is uncertain and a solid plan will have to be implemented by the government to ensure its survival.
Puerto Rico received a devastating blow and needs assistance to recover. As of now, government officials are working on a plan to get the island back up and running. The future of Puerto Rico is far from certain. Repairing the infrastructure on the island needs to be the priority. The economic issues will not be resolved until the residents are able to return to their normal lives. The damage from Hurricane Irma may have been minimal, but Hurricane Maria wiped out the chance of a quick recovery. Puerto Rico can be repaired, but the efforts will take time and money.