I’m at the Puerto Rican Family Institute in the Manhattan neighborhood of Chelsea with Taina Delamar, a second-generation Puerto Rican and New York City. She is an actor, an activist, a poet, and a singer. It has been a stressful time for her as her grandmother in Vieques, her aunt in Farjado, and cousins in Carolina have all been affected by the hurricane.
“I have only heard from them once. We heard that they were ok from one of their neighbors who had to drive from the town they were in to San Juan to get a signal. They still haven’t gotten any power. We are supposed to hear from them again this week. Their neighbors are supposed to drive again to where there is a signal but it’s already been 12 days. Still no signal, so we are waiting to hear that they are still ok.”
Almost a month later, 1.2 million customers of the island’s 3.4 million residents, are still without electricity, according to a report by the economic research firm Rhodium Group. Taina says her family is still waiting for electricity to come back on.
“We just know right now that there isn’t any power. And then this morning, I read that the town has been officially declared a disaster zone by Trump. My grandmother’s and my cousins’ towns. There is still no power.”
Many lawmakers have criticized the Trump Administration for its handling of Puerto Rico’s recovery effort. According to a recent poll by the Associated Press, just 32 percent approve of how Trump is handling disaster relief in Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands.
“People haven’t eaten and drunk much in 12 days. This includes babies and the elderly. So, we don’t know what to believe. I am more inclined to believe my people who are actually on the Island more than what the media says. Especially since I have a degree in media & arts and I know how things really run. I don’t believe the media. I do my own research. I don’t believe this President either. So, obviously, I have my own opinions about that.”
Singer and actress Jennifer Lopez pledged $1 million toward hurricane relief efforts. Many celebrities, organizations, and just everyday people have come forward to help Puerto Rico. Delamar, says that desperation is driving people to do terrible things and worries what could happen if it goes on much longer.
“I am hearing horrific stories of people getting robed, people getting stabbed. A little girl, a little seven-year-old girl is in the hospital now because there was a breaking entry into somebody’s house. It was this guy’s friend who broke into his house, stole his money. He had $8,000 in cash probably because he was trying to prepare. So, he took it out from the bank. They assaulted his daughter, a seven-year-old daughter with gun on her head. She got fourteen stitches now she is in comma. People are going crazy when you don’t eat and don’t have food to eat and water to drink, you go crazy.”
Another New York resident Inmaculada Gattas-Vincenty, who also has family in Puerto Rico, sees the US government’s response more favorably.
“They thought they were just going to die inside the home, but nothing happened to them. They are still alive, they are thankful. Very thankful for everything that’s happing right now because the humanitarian and all the people who are coming to aid, FEMA, federal government, American Red Cross, NYPD. the coastguard, and FDNY. Their presence means a lot to our people in Puerto Rico. It means a lot to the people in the north-eastern side of the island. There is still lot more to be done in center of the island and western side of the island.”
Delamar also worries about the long-term consequences for the island.
“It’s a Caribbean Country so you need water and umm I have been hearing that the 80% of the agriculture is destroyed. I am just thinking long term how it is going to affect everything.
Hurricane Maria wiped out $780 million dollars in crop value in Puerto Rico according to a New York Times report. This value represents almost 80% of yearly agricultural yield. It could take at least a year for the farming industry to replant the tress and start to grow again.
Electricity infrastructure has been damaged very badly by the hurricane, and it could take years to rebuild.
Almost 12% of population moved out of the Island between 2004 and 2016. Given the weak economic conditions and this hurricane disaster, it will not be surprising if people move out at even a faster rate this year and for the foreseeable future.