It has been just over 100 days since Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands as a category five storm. According to reports, between 40 and 50 percent of Puerto Ricans remain without power and about a quarter of residents in the USVI are in the dark. Despite promises by local officials to have the lights back on by Christmas, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers believes it will take until May to fully restore the electrical grids of two territories.
The more than three-month long blackout stemming from Hurricane Maria quickly became the the longest in U.S. history back in October, according to an assessment by the Rhodium Group. Rhodium compared the power outages caused by Hurricane Maria as of October 26 with those from other weather and non-weather events in U.S. history, and it was clear Maria disrupted electricity more than any other, including Hurricanes Katrina (2005), Sandy (2012), Irma (2017) and the massive northeast blackout of 2003.
In Puerto Rico and the USVI, the lack of power has created a host of health and environmental concerns, with sanitation systems out of order and people forced to drink from potentially contaminated water sources. Resources like food and shelter are also scarce.
As Faithwire reported last month, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, a town of 30,000 people that never regained electricity, residents wait in line at city hall for a twice-a-week handout of two dozen water bottles and a cardboard box filled with food items like tortillas, canned vegetables, and cereal. They then queue up at a local public housing complex for use of one of six gas burners in the administrator’s office. Burglaries and looting remain a legitimate concern in the suburbs, especially after night fall.
Maria Rivera, a 50-year-old who has lived in the same home with her husband and three children for nearly two decades, told the Associated Press that the darkness and lack of resources have taken their toll not just physically but mentally.
“I haven’t been able to assimilate everything that has happened,” she said. “When night falls, you start growing anxious, depressed. Everything has changed… Sometimes I go to places that have power and I tell my husband, ‘I don’t want to go back.’”
The lack of electricity also takes a crippling toll on the islands’ already perilous economies, and the Puerto Rican government’s initial bunging of the awarding a reconstruction contract further complicated matters.
According to Vox, the financial services firm Allianz found that a 30-minute power loss costs an average of $15,709 per customer for medium and large industrial facilities. An eight-hour outage costs an average of $94,000. That is a loss of productivity the islands can’t afford to be without, especially with tourism numbers way down.
With no immediate end in sight, residents have been forced to make the best of situation that is truly startling and unnerving to consider in the twenty first century.
“You always have to have a smile on your face,” Wilmary Gonzalez told the AP with tears in her eyes, “because if not, the kids get sad.”