Hurricane Maria Hits Puerto Rico

Hurricane Maria made landfall this morning near Yabucoa. Maria was a Category 4 hurricane at that time, having slowed slightly from its peak as a Category 5 hurricane. This is the strongest hurricane to hit the island directly since 1928, when the population of Puerto Rico was about one third what it is now.

More than 10,000 people had taken shelter after being told to “evacuate or die.” Most will lose their homes, but the spirit at shelters is positive. San Juan’s Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz was quoted by CNN as saying, “We are going to be hit hard, but we are blessed that we have what it takes to move and push on. We will make it, I bet you. I have no doubt, we’re going to make it.”

Governor Ricardo Rossello made a speech expressing gratitude for the federal support Puerto Rico has received.

“Before this hurricane season started,” he said, “our island had been battered by a storm of fiscal and demographic challenges. However, with the passage of Hurricane Irma the people of Puerto Rico not only demonstrated our resilience but we banded together to show our kindness and hospitality to thousands of our fellow Americans in the US Virgin Islands, BVI, St. Marteen and beyond.

“Without thinking twice Puerto Rico became the launchpad of America’s hurricane disaster rescue and recovery operation, and a safe haven for many left stranded by the fury of the hurricane in the neighboring islands.”

Many evacuees from other islands are still sheltering in Puerto Rico from Hurricane Irma’s destruction, along with evacuees from the eastern part of Puerto Rico, where Hurricane Maria is expected to land.

Disasters in Puerto Rico tend to take place in September — there were 8 disasters declared in September in Puerto Rico between 1953 and 2011. October and November are tied for second place, with 6 disasters each. During that time, there were 11 hurricanes, 9 severe storms, 8 floods, 2 droughts, one fire, and one unidentified “other” disaster — 32 disasters.

Since 2005, FEMA has provided $392 million in grants to Puerto Rico to cope with these disasters. Connecticut, with a population just a little bit larger than Puerto Rico, has declared 31 disasters and received $698 million from FEMA.

What’s the difference? Puerto Rico is a territory. Connecticut is a state.

Connecticut has 5 seats in the House of Representatives and 2 senators. Puerto Rico has one non-voting representative. The governor and the resident commissioner have both been very active, very strategic, and very successful in communicating with the U.S. Congress as Puerto Rico responds to Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria.

This is a time to pull together, stay safe, and work to rebuild. President Trump tweeted “Our hearts are with you — will be there to help” as Maria hit Puerto Rico. But there is no point in pretending that there is no difference between states and territories.

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