Ecocentricity Blog: Revisiting Maria

By: John A. Lanier
May 1, 2019 10:00 AM ET

Though the storm blew over a year and a half ago, Maria has not left the island. I’m not sure she ever will.


No silly opening for this post, since the associated lightheartedness would not be appropriate. It has been over a year since I wrote about Puerto Rico and Hurricane Maria, and even that post was five months after the storm hit. It’s time to revisit it. I hope you haven’t forgotten the toll that storm took on the island.

Here is a reminder on the facts. Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 as a Category 4 hurricane, just two weeks after Hurricane Irma had come through the region. As a result, 83% of the island’s stockpiled emergency relief items (and 90% of its stockpiled water) had been deployed, mostly to the U.S. Virgin Islands, before Maria made landfall.

When Maria hit, the power grid failed. All 3.4 million residents of Puerto Rico lost electricity, and about half of the island remained without power three months after the storm. 95% of cell networks went down. About 80% of Puerto Rico’s agriculture was lost, with coffee being hit particularly hard (roughly 18 million coffee trees destroyed). It will take more than five years to bring back even just 15% of the island’s former coffee production.

Puerto Rico was also a significant producer of medical devices and pharmaceuticals, representing 30% of its economy. These industries were impacted by the storm, causing shortages of medical supplies, especially IV bags, in the mainland United States (friendly reminder, Puerto Rico is also a part of the United States).

Then there’s the most important and gut-wrenching fact of all. About a year after the storm hit, the official death toll as a result of the storm was updated – Maria was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 2,975 people.

I’ve seen two news reports in the last couple of months that have reminded me that Puerto Rico is still dealing with the impacts of the storm. In the first, I learned that power was not fully restored to Puerto Rico until 18 months post-Maria! Even with the grid back up though, it remains fragile, as the repairs have prioritized speed over resiliency (justifiably so). For instance, 100,000 people temporarily lost power because an iguana made contact with a 115,000-volt bar. We should start praying now that hurricane season will spare Puerto Rico this year.

In the second, I learned that a study found 7.2% of Puerto Rican students are showing clinically significant signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of Maria. In other words, the horror of Maria has psychiatrically harmed thousands of children. Though the storm blew over a year and a half ago, Maria has not left the island. I’m not sure she ever will.

I ask you to do two things. First is to remember our fellow Americans in Puerto Rico, and to remember what Maria has done to them (and if you can help in any way, please consider doing so). Second is to be mindful that human impacts like these are what are at stake in this era of increasing natural disasters, whether hurricanes, wildfires or otherwise. I’m not worried about the climate for the climate’s sake. I’m worried about it for our sake.

Valerie Bennett
Ray C. Anderson Foundation
+1 (770) 317-5858