What does disaster look like? For Puerto Rico, which had just been struck by Hurricane Irma, it appeared as a Category 4 storm. On September 20, Hurricane Maria quickly earned her name, knocking out power for nearly all of the 3.4 million residents and plunging the U.S. commonwealth into a humanitarian crisis, the likes of which has not been seen in generations. The last time the island had been hit directly by a hurricane was 1932.
Compared to their Caribbean neighbors, Puerto Rico had been spared a glancing blow by this year’s previous hurricanes, and its boating community in particular had mobilized to help by evacuating displaced islanders and transporting muchneeded first aid and other supplies. But what had once been a relatively disasterfree zone was suddenly in dire need of aid.
The opening of the island’s main port in San Juan has allowed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other relief teams to ferry in much needed supplies. In the past months, U.S. airplanes and ships loaded with food, water, and generators have been steaming toward Puerto Rico and other affected Caribbean islands, the efforts amounting to billions of dollars in federal assistance. But there is still much work to do.
Some of the residents of the island have lost everything. Maria, which lashed Puerto Rico with Harvey-like rainfall and Irma-like winds, has exacerbated an already crippled infrastructure. In the coming months, distributing resources to the far corners of the island will be the biggest challenge. But in the face of such a costly tragedy, Puerto Rico remains resilient.