Book chapter

Hurricane Maria: Disaster Response in Puerto Rico (2020)

in: Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics

Abstract

On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck the island of Puerto Rico with great ferocity. The impact and outcomes of this event were devastating for the population of over three million American citizens. The electrical grid was decimated, the transportation infrastructure was significantly impacted, and an already deteriorating healthcare system was further eroded. Furthermore, the local, islandwide, and especially the federal response to Hurricane Maria failed to meet the emerging and critical needs of those impacted by the catastrophic event and left island residents and isolated communities on their own. Official estimates placed the death toll close to 3,000. Hurricane Maria also accelerated the largest migratory movement in Puerto Rico's history from the island to the continental United States and decimated an already weak and deteriorating economy after more than a decade of a severe economic crisis. Recovery efforts remained slow in many parts of the island, and the social, economic, and healthcare impacts of the hurricane will be felt for decades to come.The disaster research literature shows the disasters are not "natural," but socially constructed or produced events. Indeed, a number of preexisting factors contributed to the disaster situation in Puerto Rico, including the severe economic crisis, which was also reflected in high levels of unemployment and poverty; the island's complicated relationship with the U.S. mainland; massive net outmigration; and a frail and deteriorating healthcare system. Furthermore, the political relationship between Puerto Rico and the mainland affected federal-level disaster response and recovery efforts after Hurricane Maria.