Why Hasn’t Puerto Rico Fully Recovered From Hurricane Maria?

Hurricane Maria has hit Puerto Rico.

Though it’s been over a year now since the island of Puerto Rico was hit with two major hurricanes, they’re far from being fully recovered. People still have damage to their homes. Businesses have not reopened. Life has not returned to normal there.

One of the hardest hit areas still struggling is the public school system. Many school buildings still lay in ruins with roof tops partially blown off and tall grass growing everywhere. Since FEMA gave the island so much money, everyone just assumes that everything has been rebuilt and life has returned to normal. But it requires a lot more than money when an entire island the size of Puerto Rico is virtually destroyed.

Strong Leadership after Hurricane Maria

In order to spend the money wisely, there must be honest, hard-working people in charge at every level. From the city council to the major’s office to the Senator, it’s important to have strong leadership so that the money is spent wisely. Sadly, FEMA has no oversight committee to make sure this happens. They just provide money and hope that local and state officials will spend it as promised.

According to the latest numbers, FEMA has given the island about $3 billion for rebuilding and another $2 billion to rebuild the electrical grid. In an interesting side note, the island’s government simply rebuilt the old-fashioned standard electrical grid. They did not even consider solar power.

Puerto Rico gets over 300 days of sunlight each year and has no winter season so it would seem like a no-brainer to install solar power all over the island. The only people who had power for a long time after the hurricanes were those using solar. That fact seems to have escaped all officials tasked with rebuilding the power grid. A little wisdom and common sense goes a long way.

Comparing Hurricane Katrina with Hurricane Maria

Katrina made its second U.S. landfall on August 29th 2005 as a category 4 hurricane around Buras-Triumph, Louisiana. Much of the damage was caused by the failure of the city’s levee system, which was old and completely inadequate. Eventually, there were a total of 1,833 deaths including those in Florida, the Caribbean and other areas. The final price tag was $125 billion. In spite of all the money the state was given by the federal government, there were still thousands of dilapidated structures and tall fields of grass 10 years after Katrina hit. It should be noted that, like Puerto Rico, Louisiana is a state well-known for corruption in government and law enforcement.

Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster to ever hit Puerto Rico. The storm made landfall as a category 5 hurricane and destroyed over 80 percent of the island’s infrastructure. Unfortunately, there are no building codes and/or they are not properly enforced on the island. Many people build structures out of cardboard and junk lumber. These poor building practices resulted in even worse damage than anyone could have dreamed.

There were a total of 3,057 fatalities including those in Dominica and the Caribbean islands. The median age of Puerto Rico’s power plants was 44 years and they were using equipment that was outdated and in poor condition.

The eventual price tag for hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico alone was approximately $90 billion. It was estimated that 18 million coffee trees were destroyed and coffee was and is a major agricultural crop for the island. There were about 3.5 million people living on the island before the storm but that number is declining.

In New Orleans, before hurricane Katrina, there were about 484,000 people living in the city. Years after the storm, the population has still not fully recovered and stands at about 387,000 today. There are still abandoned buildings and fields of tall grass across the city.

Are There Lessons To Be Learned?

The moral to the story is that throwing money at a problem is simply not enough. There must be strong, honest leadership in order to ensure that the money is spent wisely. Part of FEMA’s job should be to make sure there are qualified people in place to oversee the rebuilding efforts after big hurricanes and other natural disasters. Otherwise, the money never gets to the people who really needed it. It lines the pockets of dishonest politicians.

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