Puerto Rico: a refuge after Irma, a trap after Maria
While Hurricane Irma may have dampened Puerto Rico with rain, it wasn’t able to dampen the spirit of Puerto Rico. Although the hurricane left Puerto Rico battered and without power, and Puerto Rico is still struggling with debt, the islands have opened their arms to allow refugees from nearby islands that the hurricane hit harder to seek refuge.
Several thousands of refugees from the British Virgin Islands and other nearby islands poured into Puerto Rico in the week after Irma. While Puerto Rico was spared from the worst of Irma, the Virgin Islands took a severe beating. An unofficial estimate states that nearly 90% of all homes, business, and boats were destroyed in the US Virgin Islands . In the aftermath of the storm, British Authorities have had to enforce a curfew on the island to deter looting, and military emergency teams have been deployed. There have been reports of violent crimes and looting following the wake of the storm, and residents and tourists alike are desperate to get off the island, especially with several other hurricanes brewing in the vicinity. The news from the US Virgin Islands and St. Martin tell similar tales of destruction, looting, and desperation.
The First Lady of Puerto Rico had organized a rather unusual, but very sweet, way to help. Beatriz Rosselló has coordinated an effort with the Department of Agriculture to provide aid for the pets of the refugees coming to Puerto Rico. They arranged to waive the health registration requirements for refugees entering Puerto Rico with pets, and coordinated with veterinarians to inspect the animals upon arrival. This effort surely eased the worries of storm battered families who were facing the choice of staying, or fleeing and abandoning their pets. Besides just allowing refugees to enter the archipelago, Puerto Rican citizens stepped up to aid their neighbors. They sent help in the form of food and water, along with first aid supplies, clothing, and other necessities. Many of these supplies were being taken to nearby islands by normal citizens with boats. They also offered to take refugees from those islands back with them on their return trip.
However, Puerto Rico didn’t recon for a second, stronger hurricane to blow past soon after. Hurricane Maria brewed quickly and unexpectedly in the Caribbean, and Puerto Rico was hit directly this time. Many of the survivors who fled their home islands to seek refuge in Puerto Rico were then trapped In Puerto Rico awaiting the passing of Hurricane Maria in shelters. Puerto Rico was badly damaged by Maria: flooding, 100% power outage, communications (still) down, burst dam, and supplies running low. The islands are mostly inaccessible after ports, airports, and roads were severely damaged by the storm. Islands that seemed to be a blessing for refugees now seems like a trap for them.
FEMA, the Coast Guard, US Customs and Border Protection, US Soldiers, and the Army Corps of Engineers are all operational in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands working on rescue operations. At least 10,000 people are currently living in shelters across the islands of Puerto Rico because the storm has destroyed their homes, and they have no-where else to go. Conditions in shelters are rapidly deteriorating without electricity and running water.