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Everyone has heard about how bad Puerto Rico was hit by hurricane Maria and how slow the recovery has been. As reported by the press, about 45% of the island is still without electricity and without that, you have no running water. The press has also reported that about 400,000 Puerto Ricans have left the island since September 20th.

THAT’S ALL TRUE.

To add insult to injury, the Feds suspended issuing reports on the recovery ‘progress’ being made. No news is better than bad news, right?Federal Relief MREs and water

Before I launch into the post, I need to say we are fine, The dogs are fine. Our concrete house suffered only very minor cosmetic damage. However the trees I’ve been working on for the last 6 years did not fair so well. Vegetation was decimated. We lost many trees, many more were badly damaged.

We were most fortunate… many more still need our help.

What follows are my own observations, some photos, how we dealt with it and a timeline which got us to where we are now. I’ll conclude with my observations about the exodus from the island and the FEMA response.

A short, crude video taken during the hurricane is also in the works. I’ll drop a link on this page when it’s done.

The Issue of Hard News or Lack of It

We would not see any national news until we were back on the Net on November 30th. Nothing until then. Nada. No emergency broadcasting capability at the local or national level. It was like a military invasion blackout. We had no clue as to whether Maria had done more damage elsewhere or if we might see anymore hurricanes in the near term. We had no idea, hurricane Lee followed Maria. We did get a lot of wind and rain, days after Maria passed by. It was never mentioned on the AM stations we were monitoring.For Emergencies- CCrane Radio AM1260 WAPA

Local news, what there was of it, came from 3 or 4 AM radio stations that had a hard time staying on the air. Issues with electricity and the lack of functional generators. Especially on the south side of the island where we are. San Juan on the north side has ready access to news we could not get. Of course all of it is in Spanish with the exception of the 2 or 3 announcements made by US Government officials. The only English announcement made by a Puerto Rican authority was delivered by the Governor of PR on the day the President came for his infamous photo-op.

MAKE NO MISTAKE, 100 DAYS IN, THERE ARE STILL MILLIONS WITHOUT CITY WATER OR SEWER, ELECTRICITY OR CELL SERVICE AND LITTLE TO NO BASIC HEALTH SERVICES.

THAT’S ALSO TRUE OF THE US VIRGIN ISLANDS TOO.

Ironically, Coamo has it’s own little independent radio station, WCPR 1450AM (Radio Free Coamo?). We would listen to Tony’s morning show, hoping to learn something from it. This was almost always an exercise in frustration as he would often redirect the conversation away from the topic of the moment. We love him, but he’s quite the character. The station had its generator stolen so they were off the air while they scrambled to replace it. WAPA Radio at 1260AM, a syndicated group also had technical issues. They would disappear mid-sentence and not be back until the next day. This happened often. The AM Emergency Weather Channel doesn’t cut it either.

Communications, the First Stumbling Block

Everyone knows I’ve whined about how crappy internet service is out where we are. For awhile it was island wide. It’s a good part of why I quit updating this Blog.

The hurricane trashed 95% of all the communications on the island. Both cell service and hardwired telephone service (which includes DSL internet). The cell service is slowly coming back, but it will be many months before the hardwired telephone and DSL internet service will be back up. Maybe never.AEE crew at work restoring power

I think Claro/PRT is waiting to see what kind of government bail-out they can get. So it’s too early to call.

Literally tens of thousands of wood and concrete telephone poles must be replaced. Yes, even some of the concrete poles were destroyed.

I can say one of the smartest things the Governor did was handing out satellite phones to all the mayors of PR. Without these, most of those trying to coordinate services were in the dark. The only other group with any form of communications was the Military and the National Guard. The civilian side (government or the public) had nothing for emergency situations.

Power, Gone

Besides the massive of loss of telephone poles, the entire electrical grid was destroyed. Let me repeat, the main power grid in Puerto Rico (and the US Virgin Islands for that matter) was demolished. The PR Power Utility was poorly manned before this tragedy. I’ve documented busted off poles going unreplaced for months, sometimes over a year. Just hanging mid-air from their old spot. So there was NO WAY PREPA (Puerto Rico’s energy entity) could deal with replacing 30,000 miles of electric wire and 15,000 poles on their own. We are talking Billions of dollars in damage, the PR government has no way to deal with. Before the storm, PROMESA wanted to cut the payroll of the power utility by another 10%. Like that was going to solve Puerto Rico’s debt crisis.

Puerto Rico Night View Before and After Maria

There is more outside manpower on the ground today, to deal with these issues. Will it be enough to get the job done in short order? That window has come and gone. It will still take months before all the work is done and that’s just at the ‘Power Grid’ level, the main transmission system of distribution. That does not even address the issue of setting new poles for residential, government and business needs. The work is progressing, but slowly.

A few of the electric windmills around Salinas and Santa Isabel were operational as of December 20th. The majority sit idle. I’m sure they need to be cleared for service before turning them back on. Where will the money to cover that cost come from? Like I said, PR is broke.

Heavy Power Line Work with Helicopters

So without power, you have no cell service, no water pumps moving city water or powering things like gas stations and hospitals. Yes, the Nat. Guard moved pretty quickly to fix or replace the generators at all the hospitals they could get to. Which is yet another issue…

Impassable Roads

Especially up in the hills and mountains of Puerto Rico. No services can be restored until the roads are cleared. This was the main issue the Nat. Guard faced, trying to deliver water and MRE’s to those stranded in place. These little mountain roads switch back and forth over small streams and canyons to the point that it can make you dizzy. The island is small when compared to the US Mainland, but travel is very slow, once you leave the coast and move into the mountains. Not a lot of working room for big road construction equipment. Some of them are single lane roads… people often honk so they don’t run into each other.

Then you add washed out roads and bridges from torrential rain and pounding winds that uprooted 100 year old trees. This equates to an impassable mess. They are still fighting the roads as you read this.Highway 150 Clean Up in Coamo

As Americans, we take for granted that disasters will be dealt with by our Federal Government. Help when help is needed. I think that’s a pretty reasonable expectation. Otherwise, what do we need them for?

No. I’m not talking about low interest business loans which seems to be the driving effort behind FEMA these days. A front for banks? You do know that FEMA is a branch of Homeland Security, right?

Disaster Preparedness on a Personal Level

It’s important to note that we were more well prepared for a disaster than the average person. That would be true no matter where I lived. Though I was only a child of 11, I vividly remember the Good Friday Earthquake of March 27th, 1964. The strongest earthquake to ever strike North America at 9.2 on the Richter scale. To say it left an impression on me would be a gross understatement.Maria GOES Hurricane Animation 20-Sept-2017

I’m not a survivalist. I hate that term.

I don’t intend to survive, I intend to thrive.

So I try to prepare for certain possibilities. Like hurricanes and earthquakes. That said, I was not well prepared to deal with a category 5 hurricane. Note that Maria had weakened just slightly to a strong cat 4 when its eye hit the south east shore of Puerto Rico.

Our Timeline, What Happened and When

I kept day to day notes so I have reconstructed those into the following time-line. Our experience was not unique in any way. It has been repeated by everyone on the island, hundreds of thousands of times. I hope this insight into our situation can help folks figure out what they need to do, to be prepared. That said, I’m not sure any of us can legitimately prepare for a disaster of this magnitude.

Hurricane Irma brought rain and wind to our side of the island. Nothing like the hammering the north east coast of PR received.

Hurricane Jose missed us entirely.

Sometime around September 14th or 15th-

There was a small amount of debris from hurricane Irma so I pulled out the chainsaw to do some trimming. On the 10th or 12th yank at trying to start it, I felt a ‘pop’ in my left shoulder.  It was an audible pop.  At that point I gave up trying. (This was part of the original story timeline and somehow got left out so I added it back in on January 10th. Errors like this happen when you are a ‘staff of one’. Fortunately, me First Mate does basic proofreading and double checks my SEO effort before posts go live.)

September 18th-

Ran around scoring extra groceries and supplies. As was everyone else.

Made sure the generator was ready.

September 19th-

Tried to fill up the tank on the car and top off gas cans, but the lines were too long. (or so we thought)

Moved all my exposed potted plants onto the enclosed porch.

Prepared the unfinished darkroom downstairs to wait out the storm with our dogs.

By mid afternoon city water stopped running.

Power failed at 2:30PM.

Hurricane Salad Courtesy of MariaThe sky was getting very dark, just before sunset. No rain yet

Moved into the darkroom to wait out the storm. Dogs too.

Pulled out the candles, oil lamp, flashlights and the one burner Coleman stove. Could not find the new mantels for the Coleman lantern.

Winds had picked up considerably by 9PM. As did the rain.

Wind gusts continued to increase in speed as we approached midnight.

Before Sunrise September 20th-

Hurricane winds have kept us up all night. Darkroom remained dry, as did the rest of downstairs area. Wind was particularly strong from 2AM to 6AM prompting me to place a sheet of plywood and a few 2x6s in front of one window in the darkroom where we were. Thankfully, it did not blow out. All of our windows downstairs are of the Miami metal shutter type.

Sunrise on September 21st-

It was surreal… I had never witnessed anything like this. Shredded leaves pushed up like shallow snow drifts and trees without any leaves whatsoever. Old growth trees with their top third gone or completely pushed out of the ground, roots and all. Except for the shredded leaves, everything was brown. A few trees had their bark peeled off.Leafless Ceiba Tree in Coamo

It rained all day.

Upstairs, there was no leaks and no water on the floor. We were lucky or blessed or both. However, the upstairs back porch was a 3 inch swamp. We stayed downstairs 2 more nights until it was all cleaned up.

At this point, all infrastructure, island-wide was down. No electric, no city water, no phone, cell or internet service. The only source of sporadic news was 2 Spanish AM radio stations (on our side of the island). No access to the banks or ATMs and ALL transactions were in cash for the next three weeks.

Is this what it’s like to live in Haiti?

September 22nd and 23rd-

Cleared fallen trees from driveway and electric gate so we could get out. Had just enough battery left on saw to cut trees before it died. No functional chainsaw at this point (major mistake). My left shoulder and arm are now in constant pain.

Tried to stay up on the news, what there was of it.

Finally had enough sun for the little USB solar charger to top off the cell phone and iPad.

About this time, an abandoned kitten showed up. We think she was about 6 to 8 months old. We took her in and named her Misu. Later in December, she would get her shots and get fixed.

Quarter Mile Gas Lines in Coamo

Sunday, September 24th-

Went out to score gas for the generator. It uses 2+ gallons per day to keep the fridges and freezer running. Long lines at ALL stations. Sat in line for 4 hours. Saw cars die in line while waiting to get gas.

Walgreens was open for cash only.

PR Police were stationed at all stores and gas stations. Also directing traffic. Did not see Nat. Guard at this point.

September 25th- September 27th-

More clean up, in and around house. Limited by left shoulder issues. The yard and gardens will have to wait until we can arrange for outside help.

MISU Stray CatSunday, September 28th-

Made another gas run to a local station on the main plaza of Coamo. Stood in line for 2.5 hours to fill 3 jugs (I brought my folding stool). All gas stations are operating on standby diesel generators.

Post Office was still closed.

Sunday, September 29th- October 3rd-

Filled more boxes with garbage and junk and stuff.

October 3rd-

Local Post Office re-opens with limited service. Parcel pick-up only. No counter service. I dropped a letter to my brother with a check to cover the cost of a new chainsaw.

This was the day of the President’s visit to Guaynabo. A bedroom community of the greater San Juan Metroplex.

Dropped off the generator for repair. Turns out, the voltage regulator failed.

Shopped for the first time at Walmart. Then at checkout, we were told it was cash only.

TWO WEEKS IN- October 4th- 10th:

The first things to grow back were the scrub Mimosa, a major weed, the trailing and climbing vines and 6ft tall grass. A gardeners worst nightmare.

Most of the trees are starting to show new leaves. Some are trying to flower out of season like the Orchid tree and Flamboyan. We lost our one Puerto Rican Lemon tree. The Hybrid Mango was almost destroyed. The Old growth Tropical Almond tree looks like a telephone pole with leaves growing out of it. Those are just the ones we can see from the house.Orchid Tree Blooming out of Season

The National Guard is now out in full force in our area. They are busy providing backup security and delivering diesel to gas stations and hospitals on generators. They were also busy installing generators where needed. Army helicopters are everywhere. I even thought I saw a surveillance drone.

We still have no power, no city water, no cell or phone service, no access to the banks.

We did see electric utility crews out working in the streets.

The roads are still full of debris from fallen trees, telephone poles and hanging wire. Lots and lots of hanging wire.

October 5th-

If you drove into San Juan, you could get limited banking and cash withdrawals before today. Hundreds of people were in line outside the Banco Popular in Santa Isabel. We did not even try. It was a huge mess. There was a line out the door, but it was not bad. Their system crashed the next day.

Our damaged hybrid Mango TreeOctober 6th-

Vice-President Pence visits Puerto Rico

Still no cell service on AT&T out where we live. Not sure about other carriers.

October 7th-

We finally ran out of our own reverse osmosis water reserves. We usually stay 8 to 10 days ahead of the curve, but I had made up extra, a few days before the hurricane hit. That leaves us with 2 cases of bottled water. We also have reserve rain water split between two sets totaling 385 gallons. This was originally put in for the gardens and new trees. Now it’s for flushing toilets and short baths. It was never used for drinking or food prep.

Bathing in the river was never an option. Broken sewer lines now run into almost every river and stream in Puerto Rico. Some of those who did, got sick. We are on city water, but because we are on a farm, we have a septic tank.Fallen Coconut Palms in the Yard

October 8th-

The stop-light at the only hospital in Coamo was momentarily restored.

We were able to establish an AT&T cell signal for the first time by going out to Tollway 52.

We nicknamed it- ‘The Gabia Connection’ since it was right at the Gabia Exit. on 52. Made calls to family. Calls dropped constantly before finally making a connection and then they would drop during the call itself. We were not alone… there were at least another 50 to 60 people doing the same thing.

October 12th-

Was finally able to get into the local Banco Popular branch in Coamo. The line was out the door, but not bad.

October 13th-

Drove into Ponce to look for generator parts. Nada to be found. No way to call and check on parts. Had to go there in person. Will have to wait until we get internet back. Another wasted day.

Gabia Hurricane Damage on Highway 545

October 15th-

The second generator failed… no more refrigeration. No more ice.

We still have our fold-up USB solar charger and a couple of USB Lithium batteries. The batteries were used to run little USB fans and keep the cell phone charged. It also let me keep my iPad up and running. (note- we scored a second fold up solar charger after we got internet back. This one does both 12volt and USB) For emergencies, a cheap iPad with cellular capability would be a great idea. It would draw the least amount of power versus functional capability. An Android or Windows device would also work.

October 18th-

We have limited cellphone service at the house now. Courtesy of a roaming agreement between AT&T and Claro. We can make calls out, but none in. Still have many failed or dropped calls. Not reliable at all.

October 19th-

Walgreens had bottled water. Still in short supply. So are flashlight batteries, candles and lamp oil.

Ridgid Generator 3600Most of Coamo is still without power or water.

Mayor announces on Coamo Radio that he would now apply for generators and water.

October 22nd and 23rd-

Lack of power means we have very clear night skies. We sat out in lawn chairs and watched for shooting stars. We saw several, along with a bunch of satellites passing overhead. The one shot was my first attempt at shooting stars with a new digital camera. They will get better. I have always preferred film for this type of shoot. Could not check what I did until I had my computer back.

October 23rd-

Finally saw a doctor about my bum shoulder and arm.. went for X-rays.

Saw that the National Guard had set-up in the local sports arena (velodromo) and was handing out water and MREs. Did not take advantage of that since we were doing good.

Big Deal- We finally got ICE at Selectos Supermarket in Coamo!!!! One bag per checkout.

5 WEEKS IN- October 25th-31st:

The smell of dead animals still fills the morning breeze.

Telephone poles, hanging wire and telephone lines still litter the streets.

Batteries, lamp oil, and candles are still in short supply.

Still no utility power or water and no local phone service. No effort has been made to fix any of the hardwired telephone service or remove the ruined telephone cables. At least in our area of PR.

Banco Popular Lines on the Plaza of Coamo

Our cell service is still restricted to calls out. No calls in.

The left shoulder is still a real issue. I cannot lift anything without getting shooting pains up my arm. Sleeping is the only time I get any relief.

October 25th-

Helicopter Day- We saw no less that 6 different types of helicopters. More than any airshow I’ve ever been to. They were in and out, all day. I spent my time shooting them as they went by. I wanted to make a sign that said- ‘NEED ICE’ ‘and rum and coke too’ (in small letters), but me First Mate said that was not a good idea.Heavy Lift US Army Helicopter

FEMA was also in the area doing damage assessment. FEMA was requiring folks to file their claim via the internet. How stupid was that? What internet? Where? Besides, most Puerto Ricans access the net via a cell phone, not a computer. Ever try to fill out a form on a 4 inch screen? Then they decided to set up dedicated locations with internet, but these were never in the same place for more than a day or two at a time. Most folks were relying on the AM morning show to find out where to go or depended on friends to keep them informed. It was a mess.

Twin Rotor Military HelicopterIt was reported that there were 22 bridges out, just within our municipio (municipality). There are two bridges that give us access to town. The one on Highway 14 was closed after Irma passed by. It was originally built by the US Army Corps of Engineers in 1898 during the Spanish American War. I kid you not. The second bridge on Highway 150 was badly damaged by Maria. Half of one lane is gone. They simply added concrete barriers along the side to keep folks from driving off it. It’s basically a one lane bridge at the moment. When they close it to fix it, thousands of us will have to drive out to the highway via Gabia and then come back into town just to check mail, on a road that’s way over used now. It will be yet another nightmare to cope with.

Another glorious starry night. This was our 4th night sitting outside under the stars. No power, no street lights means the sky is jet black. We counted no less than 7 satellites pass over, as well as 4 shooting stars in the span of 2.5 hours. The Milky-way was very prominent. The night sky shot was from the night before. Very humbling.

Starry Night with No Electricity

October 26th-

Called Ridgid again to see if the generator part was available, but no. It was our only non-internet lead.

And… We Got Water too!!! Took our first hot showers in 5 weeks. We have passive solar hot water so if we have water pressure, we have hot water too! Water pressure was low and it did drop out for a couple of days, but it came back again, no problem. Sitting in the tub with a gallon jug of water, trying to get clean, sucks. It works, but it is tedious. The bum shoulder does not help.

Green Energy Solar Set Installers

October 27th-

Bought 2 Bags of Ice! No limits.

October 31st-

Still no electricity.. water pressure went away.

Decided it was time to bite the bullet and install a solar electric set with batteries.

Went into Coamo Satellite (across from the Post Office) to use their wireless lan ($10 per hour). It was painfully slow, but worked. I sent out emails to most everyone for the first time since September 19th.

No ice available today.

Monday, November 6th-

Got tired of waiting on AT&T to get its act together so we went and scored a cheap Chinese Android cell for running Claro. Claro works. A ‘pre-paid, pay as you go’ solution. $20 a month for unlimited calls and texting (which I try to avoid, if I can). The battery life is a joke. We could do without the text spamming as well.Solar Panels on Roof 12x 260 Watt

After 3 dead ends, we finally found an imaging lab where I could get an MRI of my shoulder.

It was an extremely, excruciatingly painful 10 minutes while the doc did the scans. Had to wait another week to get the results back. I got physical therapy for it too.

November 7th-

After it quit raining, a crew came by to start the solar panel install. We have had a lot of rain since Maria. Almost every day.

November 8th-

Water is off again until sometime next week.

Thursday, November 9th-

The new solar/battery set from Green Energy is now up and running. We have electricity!!! Which means we have lights and fans and refrigeration, which means we have ice again. Woo Hoo. Celebrated with a glass of nice warm red wine. Tomorrow, it will be chilled red wine. We have computers too, but no internet just yet. Internet access via a smart phone does not count.Solar Battery Set 6x 8 volt

With refrigeration, I can finally apply ice to my messed up shoulder. It’s the one thing that seems to make a difference. That and keeping it in a sling so I don’t try to use it.

November 10th-

The water is back on again! Hot showers for all!

Water AND Electricity!
2 out of 3 ain’t bad.

Saturday, November 11th-

Was finally able to wash clothes for the first time in 7 weeks! Without the solar set, this could not happen. Still have no electricity from the grid. The solar set has limits. We cannot turn on everything at the same time, but we can run what’s important. The rest can wait.

Monday, November 13th-

The wind generators in and around Santa Isabel and Salinas are still off.

Scored the lab results from my MRI. Turns out it was two pulled tendons in my shoulder and not a torn rotator cup like we thought it was. Still very sore.

Linemen are out front of our place, rewiring the service up to the city water tank. The water tank will not feed the community without the power. This means we might get power too, since that pole is at the corner of our driveway.

Rio Los Minas HW150 Bridge

8 WEEKS IN- November 15th- 21st

November 15th-

Electric crews have been busy setting new poles and stringing wire out front. It rained on them hard in the afternoon, but they just kept at it. AWESOME STUFF! Have new respect for these guys!

November 16th-

Utility Power Restored!!! (for the few homes in this area.)

Thursday, November 17th-

Met with the doctor at the physical therapy clinic and he gave me a steroid shot in my bum shoulder. The six days of physical therapy had little effect. Within two days, the steroid shot started to make a difference. At the end of two weeks, it was very much improved. No constant pain or throbbing.

Went into Coamo Satellite and ordered up the HughesNet internet service. It’s currently the only way we will get to functioning internet, out where we live.

November 19th-

Was able to go back to using our reverse osmosis system for potable water. No more bottled water!

Avocados Dropped from Hurricane MariaWent shopping at Walmart today. They had bananas for the first time. They were out of butter, sour cream, paper napkins and non-dairy creamer (like Cremora). They were very low on bottled fruit juice. They had no boxed stuffing or cranberry jelly for Thanksgiving. None of this is life threatening, but it does point to an inventory control or logistics issue.

The much smaller Selectos in Coamo had the stuffing and cranberry sauce we were after. Super!!!

November 21st-

Installer came to set-up the HughesDish, but it quit working the moment he disconnected his computer. We did not realize it until he was out the driveway. So no internet just yet.

Life is almost back to normal

December 2nd-

They finally worked out the issue with the HughesDish system. Turns out it was a bad modem. We are very happy it was finally resolved. The system works real good, but there is a monthly data-cap. That prevents us from doing system level upgrades or watching many videos. Limited Netflix or Hulu for now. It streams 480p, no problem. I’m impressed. Not that big a deal, really. IF, we want to be up between 2AM and 8AM, there is a much bigger data-cap available for ‘Big Data’ demands. That’s when I catch up on the ‘Walking Dead’.

December 4th-

A few of the wind generators around Santa Isabel are now operational.

December 9th-

Hired a guy, temporary part time to help with the yard and garden clean-up. Frankie is awesome!!

Muddy Coamo River After Hurricane Maria

December 18th-

Had a follow-up visit with the doctor at the physical therapy clinic. My shoulder is much improved. I can now do light work outside. Nothing strenuous. I’m tired of sitting on my butt all day. It’s not 100%, but that’s okay.

December 27th-

Our No-limit wireless internet service, VelocityNet is back up and running. WOO HOO! We will keep the HughesDish for now. I’m very happy with it’s performance.

It only took 3 months and a week for us to be whole again. Not bad considering the level of destruction.

It may be over for us, but it’s NOT over for all. As I mentioned before, 45% of the island is still without power or water and are STILL depending on emergency services, just to get by. We may be okay, but there are plenty who are not. Same goes for the US Virgin Islands too.

Needless to say, I caught up on my reading while the power was out. 14 books in 12 weeks. There was not much else I could do.USB Solar Charger with Fan and Battery

Things we need to put away for the future:

A smaller backup propane tank for the kitchen stove, several extra cases of bottled water, a good stash of AA, AAA and D batteries, lots more candles, a gallon of Coleman fuel, a gallon of oil for the lamp (plus a couple more lamps) and 3x 5 gallon jugs of gasoline. The gas is for the tractor and car, if needed. I always hated keeping gas since it has such a short shelf-life. And a couple extra 5 gallon gas cans (empty), just in case. A diesel generator would be better than gas, but overkill at this point.

At the beginning of this disaster all stores were closed. Some were badly damaged and did not reopen until weeks later. Those that were open, only took cash as they had no access to computerized banking services. Please note that these were issues with where we live on the south side of the island. I cannot speak to the issues of supply and banking services elsewhere.

After the hurricane, we made a point of staying close to the house. We wanted to stay out of the way of emergency services and first responders.

The Second Exodus of Puerto Ricans

The exodus from the island is now at a fever pitch. It has been reported in the press that no less than 400,000 folks have left for New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas or Illinois since the disaster. All have large Puerto Rican communities. Especially New York and Florida. I’m pretty sure most folks reading the above, would never put up with this level of misery. As US citizens, Puerto Ricans don’t have to either. They’ve certainly earned the right to go wherever they want.

A small overloaded water delivery truckMy sympathies are with them.

I genuinely hope they can come back at some point. It’s important to note that in the 8 years I’ve lived here, prior to Maria, about 600,000 Puerto Ricans had made the move to the US mainland. In fact, several months prior to the hurricane, we had seen an uptick in people apply for passports at our local post office. We hit the post office 2 or 3 times a week and every time we go in, at least 2 or 3 people are there dealing with their passport paperwork. This was not the case two or three years earlier. Not all of them are planning vacations to the Dominican Republic.

So this latest surge will surely bring the grand total to over 1 million and counting. That’s more than the entire population of Alaska, North Dakota, Vermont or Wyoming. Another interesting fact- Many more Puerto Ricans live stateside than on the island.

What Was the One Great Failure?

I can sum it up in one word- Logistics. For that to work, all elements must work in coordination with each other. That dictates a hierarchal command structure with a top down management solution.Do Not Flush- Save the Water

There was never one group, one person at the top, in charge of anything.

I blame that on the Feds and Homeland Security being placed above FEMA. That’s who FEMA takes their marching orders from. That’s where their budget comes from.

As long as FEMA is under the control of Homeland Security and not a free standing entity, I’m pretty sure their idea of preparedness is ‘boots and bullets’, not water and MREs for civilians.

There was a Fed level disaster management vacuum. There still is.

A Critical Economic Turning Point

The island’s population is now estimated at or below 3.4 million (I bet it’s a lot lower than suggested). When you do the math, there are now less than 950,000 working at jobs that ‘might’ generate payroll taxes for the state. Due to low-income tax breaks, that figure is probably closer to 750,000 taxpayers (excluding sales tax revenue of course). In other words, the tax base has been so badly decimated, PROMESA will never be able to tax the island into prosperity. They can never cover the $74+ billion dollar debt owed. It’s actually closer to $112,000,000,000 when you factor in the electric and water utility bond debt, and the PR government’s uncapitalized pension debt. Work Crew Setting New Poles on Highway 150Yea, that’s a lot of zeros.

Nor does this figure incorporate the tens of billions of damage that took place when hurricanes Irma and Maria went through.

With the newly enacted 20% tax increase by Congress on corporations shipping goods off the island (PR is currently classified as a ‘foreign jurisdiction’), you have an economic storm of catastrophic potential.

PROMESA and the 2017 hurricanes have pushed us to an economic precipice. The US Congress with it’s new budget priorities pushes us over the top.

It really sounds like heavy handed Disaster Capitalism all over again. Something the US practiced elsewhere for several decades… now perfected and brought home to the US. Or at least as it concerns Puerto Rico.Sunset over Coamo

Nor will we be personally taking out any small business loans ‘at low, low interest rates’. The big pitch we kept hearing from FEMA, over and over again.

There are some disaster relief funds in the new Fed budget, recently signed into law by the president. California, Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands will be splitting it between them. That is good, but it’s not near enough. It will certainly not make Texas or PR whole, even if one of them got it all.

The devastation of this ‘once in a lifetime’ hurricane will be felt for many years to come.

At this point we are essentially on our own. Fortunately, the locals, at least where we are, know how to make the best of a bad situation.

Things are getting better. We will prosper.

“Yo no me quito”
(“I’m not leaving”)

In closing, I had hoped to avoid any reference to national politics with this post. I managed to avoid it in all my previous posts. Apologies to anyone I’ve inadvertently offended.

Sources for this post were taken from- The Washington Post, The New York Times, PBS News Hour, NPR, Democracy Now, The Congressional Record, Wikipedia, and The US Weather Service. The balance of US news media have dedicated very little coverage to the disaster recovery effort in Puerto Rico.

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