By Teresa Irene Gonzales
In September 2017, the Caribbean and southeastern parts of the United States experienced two devastating hurricanes: Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.
Hurricane Irma – a category 5 storm with winds upwards of 175 mph – caused physical destruction, flooding, and loss of life (~134 total) throughout Barbuda (95% destruction), Puerto Rico (1 million without electricity), Florida (6.5 million homes without electricity), and elsewhere.
Two weeks later, on September 20, Hurricane Maria – a category 4 storm with winds of 150 mph – followed a similar trajectory through the Caribbean. Already reeling from the effects of Irma, Maria further devastated Puerto Rico, where it made landfall; the majority of phone lines (cell and landlines) and internet communication was down (85% inoperable), the agricultural sector was destroyed, 230,000 homes were damaged or destroyed, and the Guajataca Dam, holding 11-billion gallons of water, failed. In addition, the entire island lost power.
The U.S. government’s limited and slow response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico highlight the second-class status of commonwealth entities. Although U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans have limited access to the rights of citizenship.