One hundred days after Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico, at least half the island remains without power. Though initial tallies of lives lost were in the double digits, without a doubt the true number is in the hundreds, if not more.
The island’s per capita income is $11,688, roughly half as much as the poorest of the 50 states. Its government has let its roads, emergency services, and electrical grid decay as it struggles under massive debt obligations and federally imposed austerity measures. These two factors — poverty and rotting infrastructure — combined with the storm to trigger a second disaster, this one entirely man-made and far more deadly than the storm itself.
The most dire situation involves long-term blackouts across Puerto Rico, which has led to myriad health-related problems - and for many, even death.
The damage caused by the extended electrical outage is most acute in the island’s hospitals. A study of power outages in Ghana over a five-year period found a 43 percent increase in patient mortality on those days that a health-care facility loses power for more than two hours. But the absence of electricity leads to problems all across society — more stress, more disease, more accidents.
For its part, the Trump administration seems unwilling to continue its assistance on the island and has already begun extracting manpower and resources.
Even as the federal government winds down its response, withdrawing personnel and equipment, some homes are not expected to regain electricity for months. Experts are warning that, with the ballooning mosquito population and lack of clean drinking water, Puerto Rico is at risk of an epidemic.
Though Donald Trump has mostly ignored it, he is presiding over a historic tragedy. By the time the island returns to normalcy, Maria could easily have surpassed Katrina to become the country’s deadliest natural disaster in living memory.