The Situation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands Remains Shockingly Dire

Image via Getty.
Image via Getty.

Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, only 18 percent of the US territory has electricity. On Thursday morning, Puerto Rico was around 43 percent electrified—an outrageous percentage, already, constituting the worst power outage in US history—when a main power line serving the northern part of the island failed, plunging a number of cities that had slowly regained power back into chaotic darkness.


That this particular power line had been repaired by the unqualified Ryan Zinke-linked two-man company Whitefish energy—which lost its cartoonishly fishy contract with the Puerto Rican government after scrutiny and is now reportedly under FBI investigation—only adds to the disgusting morass of fuck-ups and wholehearted neglect that has characterized this crisis (Whitefish Energy conceded that it had worked on the line but denied responsibility for the blackout).

Yesterday’s power outage is in the process of being restored, but the bigger picture here, of course, is that American citizens are being left to die—literally, although the actual numbers are in dispute—by a government that has dramatically exacerbated the conditions that have helped make this recovery so impossible. “This is an unnatural disaster,” Puerto Rican activist and lawyer Stephanie Llanes told me last month at the Women’s Convention in Detroit.

“We had failing school systems before Hurricane Maria hit, we had failing housing infrastructures, our electrical grid was decades-old and needed revamping and investment,” she said. “When you hit an island that’s already in an economic and humanitarian crisis, it’s going to be massive, the suffering and the violence that comes out of it.”

Women are delivering babies at home, in the dark; a heroic collective of midwives called Mujeres Ayudando Madres, documented by Vice News, are working around the clock to serve women across the island. Last week, the governor’s office told USA Today that 82 percent of the island’s water meters are active, but many people still don’t have access to safe drinking water and are collecting potentially unsafe water from creeks and streams. Even prior to Maria, USA Today noted, the NRDC reported that 70 percent of Puerto Ricans drank water that violated US standards. The island’s infrastructure remains a mess. A drawdown of federal troops in Puerto Rico will take place in the following weeks, though Lieutenant General Jeff Buchanan prefers this is referred to as a “transition.”

“We’re transitioning more from the federal side of the military more to the state side of the military.”

The crisis remains serious in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well, which was just as hard-hit by Hurricane Maria and suffered from similar issues prior to the storm. There, 73 percent of customers still lack power. The two hospitals serving St. Thomas and St. Croix will “have to be rebuilt from the ground up,” says Gov. Kenneth Mapp.


From reporter Fredreka Schouten’s account of visiting her home in St. Croix post-Maria:

For those who remain on the islands, navigating daily life is a chore.

The fierce winds blew down all the traffic signals. Most intersections were unmanned during my visit. Power poles hang precariously over the roadways. The ground is so saturated that every fresh downpour floods the roads.

The mosquito population is booming.

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Ellie is a freelance writer and former senior writer at Jezebel. She is pursuing a master's degree in science journalism at Columbia University in the fall.



That 43% refers to the amount of electricity being generated, not the percentage of homes and buildings with electrical power. I’d say it’s closer to 15%-18%, since the last times we went to bring supplies to a few towns in the center of our island they were completely without electricity. Stats are being manipulated to make sure the government looks nice internationally.