One year later, Puerto Rico still suffering from Hurricane Maria

One year later, Puerto Rico still suffering from Hurricane Maria

Charley Aguirre


If you opened up social media, looked at the news, or even paid attention to campus events last year, odds are you heard a lot of debate about the way that the Trump administration responded to the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. 

The storm devastated the island, and its inhabitants are still recovering and rebuilding, albeit much slower than need be. The fact of the matter is that Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, meaning that the U.S. government is responsible for ensuring the island’s recovery from natural disasters such as this, in the same manner that the government would respond to disasters in any of the fifty states. However, that is not what took place. One need only to compare the response to the effects of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico to that of the effects of Hurricane Harvey in Texas to see how differently the islanders were treated. It it is no wonder that many of those who could escape to the mainland did so. 

To start, let us compare the facts. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico Sept. 20, 2017. When it touched land, it had de-escalated from a Category 5 to a Category 4. The Jones Act, which prevents the island from receiving cargo from non U.S.-flagged vessels from U.S. ports, was not lifted until Sept. 28, and then was only suspended for a period of 10 days. Trump waited until Oct. 3 to visit and view the wreckage. Money for relief aid was finally granted as a loan on Oct. 13, for a sum of $4.9 billion — approximately 5 percent of the estimated $91.61 billion loss of property damage. 

Juxtapose this with the immediate response following Hurricane Harvey in Texas, which hit Aug. 25, 2017 as a Category 4. These disasters occurred within about a month of each other and had the same level of intensity. Trump visited the Corpus Christi area Aug. 29 and submitted a formal request for $5.95 billion towards aid on Aug. 31. On Sept. 8, $15 billion was allocated to the relief effort — about 12 percent of the estimated $125 billion loss in property damages. Texas used the entire state’s National Guard, as well as other state’s guards, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement dropped their usual duties to aid in relief and rescue efforts. 

Though Trump made some uninformed comments about Hurricane Harvey (he gave inaccurate numbers about how many people the National Guard rescued and stated that people went out onto their boats to watch the storm), none were quite as ignorant as those made about Hurricane Maria and Puerto Ricans. When he visited, he made a snide comment about the severity of the storm, guessing that the death toll had only reached about 17, when in reality it totalled almost 3,000. San Juan Mayor Yulin Cruz said to the President, “We are dying and you are killing us with the inefficiency.” Trump responded by critiquing her “poor leadership” and saying that “others in Puerto Rico … want everything to be done for them.” This not only shifts the blame off of his shoulders (which is exactly where it should be), but plays into the stereotype of lazy Latinx people who sit around waiting for handouts. 

It has been a year since Hurricane Maria demolished the island, yet it seems this discussion is still necessary to have. Relief efforts have been supported largely through outside organizations, but it shouldn’t have to be this way. This administration has ridiculed and ultimately failed its own people. As midterm elections approach, remember that those on the island still cannot even vote to protect their own rights and well-being. Your vote has the power to put people in charge who care and will ensure that the government defends and supports the people.