Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands experienced Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and now Hurricane Maria. According to the Washington Post, Hurricane Maria reached a Category 5 strength and hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with full force.
The storm moved at a relatively slow pace compared to Harvey and Irma. This slowness lengthened the period that the South-Eastern area felt extreme hurricane weather. According to the National Weather Service, the effects of Maria were expected to be dire, causing “catastrophic damage” and they predicted that “locations may be uninhabitable for weeks or months.” Maria has decimated Puerto Rico, which lies in an area susceptible to hurricanes. The territory has not felt the wrath of a Category 4 or 5 hurricane since Hurricane Okeechobee in 1928.
When questioned about the hurricane season by New York Times writers Kirk Semple and Luis Ferre-Sadurni, a wait-staff worker at a hotel in Dominica, Jenny Gordon, said, “this hurricane season has been very, very frightening. There’s been one after another, so we never stopped preparing.”
Semple and Ferre-Sadurni also reported from Mexico City, “Government officials in the United States Virgin Islands warned residents not to remain in their damaged homes but instead to seek refuge in a government shelter.” U.S Virgin Islands real estate agent, Cruselda Roberts, said about Maria, “I don’t think that anybody is emotionally prepared for it.” People prepared for the hurricane by stockpiling supplies and boarding up windows and doors.
Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are not alone. Writer for USA Today, Rick Jervis, reported that support is readily available in this fearful time. “The 450 shelters opened for Irma will remain in place and accept thousands of residents fleeing flood-prone areas,” said Jervis. “U.S. assets, such as on-the-ground FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] officials and U.S. search-and-rescue teams, will stay in Puerto Rico to facilitate response and recovery efforts through Maria.”
Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rossello said, “Federal aid from Washington, both logistically and in actual resources, to Puerto Rico has been phenomenal.”
In addition, the Trump administration sent a verbal approval for a prelandfall disaster declaration. This declaration allows Puerto Rico to readily access federal money and assets to put towards relief efforts and aid.
Furthermore, Jervis said, “U.S. disaster officials have promised Rossello ‘brigades’ of energy workers to help Puerto Rico reinstate power on the island after Maria, a crucial concern of leaders here.”
NBC News writers Gadi Schwartz, Daniel Arkin, Daniella Silva, and Sandra Lilley reported that, as of Wednesday, Sept. 20, Maria had taken out electricity from the U.S territory’s 3.5 million residents.
Puerto Rico’s Secretary of State, Luis Rivera Martin says, “We’re looking at four to six months without electricity.” Additional damage includes roofs ripped off of buildings, severe flooding in the streets and in homes and foundations destroyed.
While Harvey, Irma, Jose, and Maria have gained national coverage due to their magnitude, many other tropical storms have occurred. These include hurricanes Arlene, Bret, Cindy, Don, Emily, Franklin, Gert, Katia and Lee.
The next predicted storms after Maria will be hurricanes Nate and Ophelia. These are in addition to areas still affected by previous storms. For example, North Carolina is still recovering from Hurricane Matthew which hit last October. New York Times writer Jess Bidgood reported the devastating reality that many North Carolinian families are still displaced and rural towns have to accept the possibility that some residents will never return.
Some West Chester residents are planning on volunteering to aid relief efforts. West Chester University kinesiology and adventure education professor, John Helion, will be leading a small relief trip to North Carolina this January. The trip Helion leads annually will focus on aiding areas affected by hurricanes or other disasters. Many WCU student organizations are also holding fundraisers geared towards hurricane relief.
Maria Marabito is a first-year student majoring in English with a writing track. She can be reached at MM883631@wcupa.edu.