Puerto Rico Could Face 6 Months Without Power
After Puerto Rico was pummeled by Hurricane Maria last week, a Category 4 hurricane with 150 mph winds, the island has been left in shambles. After suffering widespread power outages thanks to Irma, one million Puerto Ricans were left without electricity. 60,000 still hadn’t gotten power when Maria brought a total, island-wide power outage and severe shortages in food, water, and other supplies.
As of today there’s still no power on the island except for a handful of generators powering high-priority buildings like select hospitals, and the island likely won’t return to full power for another half a year. This also means that there are next to zero working cell phone towers and no reception anywhere on the island.
Due to the blackout, many residents are relying on small gas-fed generators, and fuel is running out (though authorities in Puerto Rico insist that it’s a distribution problem, not a shortage). Puerto Ricans are waiting in six-hour lines for fuel, while many stations have run completely dry.
In most of Puerto Rico there’s no water either - that means no showers, no flushable toilets, and no drinkable water that’s not out of a bottle. In some of the remoter parts of the island, rescue workers are just barely beginning to arrive.
Puerto Rico is experiencing all of the normal catastrophes brought on by a major hurricane - and then some. In Houston after Harvey and Florida after Irma, wastewater pumping systems failed, causing significant sewage spillage. The same is almost guaranteed to happen in Puerto Rico thanks to the sustained power outages, but will be greatly exacerbated by the fact that the island’s electrical system was already “degraded and unsafe”.
In fact, nearly every problem typically faced in the wake of natural disaster will be amplified and accelerated in Puerto Rico thanks to long-existing financial and environmental problems and far fewer rescue and relief workers.
Florida and Texas also dealt with contamination from Superfund sites, but Puerto Rico has a whopping 23 in its relatively tiny area.
According to the US Department of Health and Public Services, a superfund site is “any land in the United States that has been contaminated by hazardous waste and identified by the EPA as a candidate for cleanup because it poses a risk to human health and/or the environment.” These sites are put on the National Priorities List (NPL), a list of the most dire cases of environmental contamination in the US and its territories. These are places where a person can’t even walk on the ground and breathe the air without seriously endangering their health.