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Without Basic Utilities, Puerto Rican Exodus Expected

Hurricane Maria left the flooded island of 3.4 million American citizens without power, communications, and running water, which may take months before they are restored. An exodus to Florida, which had begun before Maria hit, will likely accelerate.
September 27, 2017, 10am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Puerto Rico

The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria, which made landfall on September 20, has been described as "apocalyptic," and despite claims by the Trump Administration that "[t]he federal response has been anything but slow," the island's residents, who are American citizens as the island is an unincorporated U.S. territory, are hurting badly.

All of the electricity on the island now comes from generators. The problem lies not with the power plants, but from the fact that "roughly 80 percent of transmission lines which take power from the plants to distribution centers, are down," reports Rachel Becker for The Verge.

The mayor of San Juan has said she expected it could take four to six months for the lights to turn back on — but the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority's chief executive told the New York Times he expected three to four months, at most.

"Even before it was hit by Irma [on Sept. 20] and now Maria, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority said it needed more than $4 billion to overhaul its outdated power plants and reduce its heavy reliance on imported oil," reported Steven Mufson for The Washington Post. "The company filed, in effect, for bankruptcy July 2."

Similarly, the island had already suffering from a host of economic and financial problems well before the two hurricanes hit, reports Ed O'Keefe for The Washington Post, which resulted in an exodus of "about 80,000 Puerto Rico residents" moving to the mainland United States last year. "Most of them relocated to Florida."

[T]he arrival of thousands of island transplants has transformed cities such as Orlando and Kissimmee and is changing local and national politics. Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens who can participate in presidential primaries but cannot vote for president while living on the island.

Another area likely to see Puerto Rican migration in the "thousands" will be New York City, said Mayor Bill de Blasio, report Yoav Gonen and Danika Fears for The New York Post.

Without immediate help from the US government to rebuild the island, “there will be a mass exodus to the United States,’’ said Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló.

"Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), whose Brooklyn-area district has a significant Puerto Rican constituency...warned that if legislation addressing the economic problems isn’t coupled with federal hurricane relief, 'we’re going to have an unprecedented number of people who will continue to leave the island,'" adds O'Keefe.

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    Published on Friday, September 22, 2017 in The Washington Post
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