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View from Puerto Rico: 5 months after Maria, much remains the same

Some areas have no power, some citizens remain homeless, and some people have no food or clean water. This is the current situation in Puerto Rico nearly 6 months after the category 5 hurricane, Maria, struck the island.

Last September everything changed, after a category 5 hurricane struck the island, its scenery, hotels, and wildlife suffered severely. The destruction was incredible, all the places that seemed familiar to us puertorriqueños became unrecognizable.

No power or clean water were accessible to the citizens, roads were blocked by trees and light posts, and families were unable to contact their loved ones with little to no access to functioning telecommunications. Everyone knew what was happening, but at the same time, so many questions went unanswered.

Poala Ortiz

After a couple of days, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rushed to the island to aid its fellow citizens struck by such tragedy, still, over 100 days later it feels as if simple tasks that should have been managed months ago remain unfinished or unaddressed.

Despite the passage of several months, the conditions on the island are shocking. Trees are left tumbled down beside roads, blocking them in some cases, and light posts still haven’t been installed. Many have called on the United States to help its American citizens, which people seem to forget, living on the island. The sloppiness and lack of care with which this entire situation has been managed is truly stupefying.

FEMA has aided American citizens who live in Puerto Rico, but still, 62% of applications submitted to repair or rebuild their homes with federal assistance have been denied or are still in progress, according to the Center of Investigative Journalism of Puerto Rico (CIJ). Thinking about the magnitude of the consequences left by hurricane Maria, the lack of funds allocated to allow people to regain their homes is deeply troubling.

Paolo Ortiz

Over the past months, aid has been showered upon Puerto Rico by private and public entities, but the situation has barely changed. The past month, FEMA had taken the decision to stop providing food and water to the island and that the resources left would be handed over to the local government to be distributed directly by those entities and not the FEMA corps.

The agency took back the decision due to protests from various influential individuals; but one of the worrying factors remaining is that Hector Pesquera, secretary of public security, was not aware of FEMA’s decision when the news was exposed.

It seems unbelievable that one of the leaders of the local government, especially one that deals with the safety of the people, has no knowledge about the situations that affect the island.

Paolo Ortiz

On the other hand, the first lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló, sent candles to parts of the island that still, after over 5 months, are without electricity. This “charitable” move was taken as a bad joke by the people who continue living in these conditions.

Currently, the Authority of Electric Energy (AEE) in Puerto Rico is under the menace of privatization and close to a massive shutdown; meanwhile citizens still struggle with unreliable power, making the situation harder for everyone.

Scarce resources are not the only problem affecting the island, mental health issues, homelessness, and migration are a rising problem consequent of the hurricane. After Maria, Puerto Rico was in a brief spotlight that reminded mainland dwellers that we are a part of them, but this seems to have lasted only for a brief moment.

Paolo Ortiz

Once again, Puerto Rico hides in the shadows, another forgotten territory of the United States. Yet the island continues to suffer an inhumane situation that hasn’t been dealt with properly to this day.

Millions of dollars have been collected to aid the citizens of Puerto Rico and the local government has not been acting to support those who lost everything. The recklessness of this entire situation is wrong in many ways and needs to be fixed.

It’s about time for the local and federal government to start taking real action and work for the interests of their people and not their own.

We are not speaking about a small storm that affected us lightly, we are speaking about a category 5 hurricane that took people’s homes, possessions, and even lives. The lack of proper response to this day is hard to understand.

Paolo Ortiz