Humacao, Puerto Rico, a world-renowned resort community, remains a ghost town three months after Hurricane Maria struck the country. People who endured the initial catastrophe are left wondering whether the U.S. government cares about their survival, as many people are still without electricity and clean water.
Known for its world-class golf course at the Palmas Del Mar resort and its medical supplies and pharmaceutical industry, Humacao drew tourists and vacationers from around the world every year. But this year is different.
The U.S.-based pharmaceutical company Bristol-Myers Squibb was still running on generators as of mid-December. Furthermore, over half of the city’s schools and multiple businesses were closed.
While many other cities have electricity and are on their way to getting back on their feet, Humacao has been the last area to receive help.
Unfortunately, the delay in getting power back to the city is caused by several factors. One contributing factor is the delay in the restoration of a long-outdated electrical grid run by a bankrupt power company that is currently $9 billion in debt. Maria left the power grid destroyed and in need of complete restoration, leading the Army Corps of Engineers to consider Humacao “ground zero” for the force of the hurricane.
Puerto Rico Senator and former president of the Senate Health Committee, José Dalmau Santiago, expressed his concern about the effect of this delay on the city’s pharmaceutical industry as well as the jobs it provides.
“It is a profound problem and I’m not sure if the government knows the magnitude of it,” Dalmau said.
Even though Latin America and the Caribbean provide 11% of the value of world food production and also amount to 24% of the world’s arable land, the people of Humacao are barely managing to get enough clean food and water. For many residents, it comes down to getting enough supplies on a day-to-day basis.
While FEMA claims that 96% of Puerto Ricans now have access to potable water, there are concerns with the quality of water many residents are consuming. Some contaminants found in the Puerto Rican water were volatile organic compounds, disinfection byproducts, bacteria, as well as lead and copper.
The low-quality water combined with lack of electricity has officials concerned about the public health of residents as they see an increase in waterborne disease and bacterial illness.
Because of the daily stress of finding supplies and resources, hundreds of thousands of residents have fled the island, mainly to Florida. For those who are staying, they wonder how long they can last.
Some officials predict that it could be months, or even up to a year before Humacao is fully on the grid once again.
For now, residents are remaining hopeful of getting back to a “normal life” soon. Sen. José Dalmau Santiago says he’s able to remain hopeful because the island survived a two-year epidemic that took thousands of lives.
“If from an epidemic like that, where 100,000 Puerto Ricans died, we were able to rise up, why wouldn’t we rise from Maria?” he asked. “Claro que nos vamos a levantar!” “Of course we will rise up.”