Last week, Hurricane Irma made landfall in the Carribean, ravaging many of the islands including Puerto Rico, Cuba, Antigua, Barbuda, and the British and U.S. Virgin Islands. BBC reports that Irma was one of the most powerful storms ever to hit the Atlantic Basin, claiming at least 37 lives and leaving thousands of people without homes. The storm then moved on to Florida and Georgia, devastating the Southern United States in the wake of Hurricane Harvey.
And that is what the U.S. media focused on.
According to a report by The Nation, much of the news coverage surrounding the storm reported that it tore through the Carribean and was set to hit the United States. What many of these news outlets forgot was that Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are part of the United States.
“The problem with all this storm coverage — which has dominated broadcast, print, and digital reporting for the better part of two weeks — has been a stubborn lack of precision regarding what is the United States,” John Nichols writes in The Nation.
The Nation reports that Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, both U.S. territories, will need significant federal aid to rebuild their infrastructure. To put damages in perspective, even a 2,000 square foot home that experiences one inch of flooding could face around $20,920 in damages. And this is made worse by the reality of Puerto Rico’s recent financial turmoil.
The problem? These territories are home to over 4.1 million Americans, yet they do not have elected representatives in Congress, according to The Nation.
So, while Florida and Texas have representatives to advocate for their constituents in Washington, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands do not.
“Anyone who respects the basic premises of democracy will recognize that this electoral imbalance is atrocious — and potentially devastating for racially and ethnically diverse parts of the United States that need a voice and a vote when it comes to federal disaster relief and general budgeting,” Nichols writes.
The New York Times reports that President Donald Trump did declare a state of emergency in the territories. This gave the Federal Emergency Management Agency permission to send relief and requires the federal government to pay 75% of public safety and cleanup costs.