Hurricane María made landfall in Yabucoa
Backstory and Context
Yabucoa is not a significant tourist destination compared to other towns in Puerto Rico, but it is a significant location in Puerto Rico due to its history before and after Hurricane María. Hurricane María is the strongest atmospheric event that has passed through Puerto Rico in recent years. The category 5 hurricane made its landfall at “El Negro” beach located in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico on September 20th, 2017, an area that had already been weakened by atmospheric activity. A few weeks before, some municipalities, including Yabucoa, were affected by another hurricane (Hurricane Irma). "The entire municipality was already quite weakened. Within the situation that some residents Yabucoa found themselves, the Mayor Rafael Surrillo was faced with the task of insisting that the residents of the 'El Negro' community vacate their homes before the passage of Hurricane María" (Figueroa, 2017). As officials had feared, Hurricane María left a lot of damage, caused many deaths and prompted a lot of people to leave the island.
The island’s infrastructure was greatly affected by Hurricane María, leaving many residents without some essentials services such as electricity, water, and communication. Even before the Hurricane hit, many of these services were facing financial crisis: "The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), the public corporation in charge of the production and distribution of energy across the island, had declared bankruptcy two months before the hurricane" (Torres, 2018, p.11). The force with which this hurricane hit the island left no trace of the previous electrical infrastructure leaving 100% of the island was without electricity, which took months to be restored. After the Hurricane, around 50% of the island did not have this running water, but restoration was much faster; water was restored for most residents within weeks. Similarly, most of the telephone services were also destroyed during Hurricane María, which made the situation feel hopeless for many who had no way of communicating with their relatives to know how they were doing. They could not visit them either because the fallen trees obstructed most of the roads. It was not until several weeks after the hurricane made landfall that the roads were cleared and people could go onto the highway to check on their relatives.
After María made landfall, at least 4,645 people died as a result of the passage and devastation that the Hurricane left in Puerto Rico. The highest number of deaths occurred due to interruption in healthcare services for the elderly and failures in public medical services for the chronically ill, given the lack of electricity and damages to infrastructure reported after the hurricane (BBC News, 2018). Up until December 2017, Puerto Rican government officials had shared only limited data related to Hurricane María's death toll. The Governor at that time, Ricardo Roselló, ordered a review but the official statistics appeared much lower than actual deaths (BBC News, 2018) The average mortality in Puerto Rico increased to 62% from the day that Hurricane María made its landfall until December 31, 2017, in comparison with the same period in 2016. The mental health of the residents in Yabucoa was another concern amid the ravages that this phenomenon left on the municipality; the conditions in which many Puerto Ricans found themselves were beyond what they could manage, yet many found it difficult to access and to afford health services. Health professionals in Puerto Rico were not prepared for the crisis that Hurricane María would leave.
The destruction that Hurricane María left in Puerto Rico was the main reason why many Puerto Ricans left the island in 2017 and 2018. Many people could not bear the lack of essential services such as electricity and water, the increase in unemployment, and the widespread belief in the government’s mismanagement of the situation. People were looking for stability and a better future, which seemed impossible in Puerto Rico given the circumstances in which the entire country found itself in. The despair for many was so great that they decided to leave their homes and their communities behind to seek stability and employment. The future of the island was uncertain, and the attraction of basic services, employment and educational provision for children in the United States caused a huge migration of Puerto Ricans to the mainland. Before the hurricane struck, the economy of Puerto Rico was stagnant, but after the impact of Hurricane María, the island was in a crucial economic position.
Puerto Rico is a small Caribbean island that is located on the hurricanes' usual routes, so it will always be exposed to these atmospheric events. Although the entire world saw how a hurricane destroyed Puerto Rico in 2017, it also saw how those who stayed pushed forward with reconstructions and recovery. Although Hurricane María happened in 2017, many are still working to recover from the economic and social damage that it left in the island. As for Yabucoa, one of the most affected municipalities, the composition and physical appearance of the coastal town has been changed by the hurricane that made landfall in 2017. However, its people continue to rebuild a new and strengthened town.
BBC News "El estudio de Harvard que asegura que al menos 4,645 personas murieron en Puerto Rico Por el paso del huracán María." BBC News Mundo May 29th 2018. News sec. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-44284610
Figueroa Loza, J. "Resignados los residentes de la costa en Yabucoa ante el paso de María." Primera Hora September 19th 2017. Noticias sec. https://www.primerahora.com/noticias/puerto-rico/notas/resignados-los-residentes-de-la-costa-en-yabucoa-ante-el-paso-de-maria/
Torres, B. After María, resilience in Puerto Rico. NACL Report on the Americas. March2018. 11 - 11.