Imagine how the United States would react if the entire state of Iowa was about to be without electricity for months. Imagine how much money Americans would donate if all of Los Angeles were to lose power, including cell phone service, making them unable to contact loved ones. Imagine how quickly Congress would work to pass an aid package if half of Massachusetts lost their lights.
For Puerto Ricans, all of this is a reality. After Hurricane Maria tore through Puerto Rico, their power grid was knocked offline. The New York Times reports it could take four to six months to restore their power. This is half a year without air conditioning in a hot, tropical climate. It’s half a year relying on generators. It’s weeks without the ability to contact loved ones, as the storm also destroyed cell phone service. It’s too long without education, work or stable housing for millions of displaced residents.
Hurricane Maria was the second disaster for Puerto Rico this month. In early September, Hurricane Irma carved a merciless path of destruction where more than 1 million residents lost electricity. The eye of the Category 5 storm flattened homes, flooded businesses and caused devastation throughout the island. Irma became the most powerful Atlantic hurricane on record, injuring or killing dozens of inhabitants caught in its path. Before Maria even hit, 60,000 people were still without power. Families had stocked up on essentials, such as bottled water, flashlights, batteries and food. Thousands had been forced to evacuate their homes to safer locations, including stadiums and schools.
The nightmare didn’t end with Irma; in fact, Puerto Rico was just beginning to heal from Hurricane Irma when Maria hit. Hurricane Maria was pure terror, labeled as a Category 4 or 5 storm with 150 mph winds. As described by National Center for Atmospheric Research’s meteorologist Jeff Weber, “It was as if a 50 to 60 mile wide tornado raged across Puerto Rico, like a buzz saw. It’s almost as strong as a hurricane can get in a direct hit.”
Whereas power shortages in the United States are a nuisance, any power shortages in Puerto Rico are a dangerous issue. According to Vox’s Alexia Fernandez Campbell, the government is broke. Infrastructure is old and in need of repairs and the island is in financial trauma to begin with, without adding millions of dollars of repair to their budget. Millions of dollars they simply don’t have.
Puerto Rico is inhabited by approximately 3.5 million legal United States citizens, which is about the same size as the entire state of Iowa, all of Los Angeles or half of Massachusetts. If a natural disaster terrorized one of these locations, we would jump to help them, offering sanctuary, financial assistance and moral support. Then why is Puerto Rico getting the cold shoulder?
It seems as if Congress has completely forgotten about Puerto Rico’s nightmare. The question is, should the United States pay more attention to natural disasters that affect people who do not live on the mainland of the United States and Alaska and Hawaii, including U.S. territories and other countries?
In my opinion, the answer is yes.
Natural disasters are an uncontrollable beast. The United States has the financial budget to repair infrastructure and protect citizens, providing them with sanctuary, food and health services in the wake of a hurricane. Dozens of other countries, on the other hand, don’t. Puerto Rico is a United States territory. While it may seem far away, it is still the United States’ responsibility to assist Puerto Rico in any way possible – financially, medically, everything.
Yes, we are United States citizens. But, we are also global citizens. We should be more committed to acting like it.