In less than a month, the islands in the Caribbean have been faced with the enormous task of bracing for, confronting, and dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. Just as things began to quiet down and efforts for rebuilding, damage assessment, and pooling funds together were underway, news of Hurrican Maria began to surface.
The storm carved a path through Puerto Rico on Wednesday and battered the US island territory for almost twenty-four hours with heavy rains and winds. The sustained winds fluctuated between 170 to 280—the storm was at Category 5 just before it touched down on the island, but had been downgraded to Category 2 by the time it has moved on to the Dominican Republic on Thursday. The damage, however, had been done—in one day, the mighty Hurricane had dumped upwards of 100cm of rain on the small island.
A brief timeline of the storm’s devastating activity on the island:
• At around 8 p.m. on Tuesday the storm makes contact with Puerto Rico.
• By 5 a.m. on Wednesday, the storm had been downgraded to Category 4 and was close to the capital city of San Juan.
• By 9 a.m. the storm has passed through San Juan, traveling in a west-southwest direction at a speed of 10kph.
• At 1:30 massive power outage affecting the entire island is reported.
• By 8 p.m. the storm, now downgraded to Category 2, has left Puerto Rico from the northwestern tip of the island.
When the storm had moved on, local officials were faced with a grim reality to cope with and share with the public: the power outages could last between 4 to 6 months. For the 3.5 million residents who will be affected, the issue of electricity is part of larger budgetary and infrastructural issues which had already had an impact, even prior to the storm.
In assessing scale of the challenges which will be faced, Puerto Rico governor Ricardo Rosselló said the storm was “the most devastating storm to hit the island this century, if not in modern history,” adding about the financial difficulties, “The US territory [of Puerto Rico ] has been through a long recession, is deeply in debt and has a state-owned power grid that is “a little bit old, mishandled and weak.”
Another island—perhaps the one which has faced the most devastating loss of all, is Dominica. Of the modest population of only 7,300, there were at least 15 fatalities reported, while a number of people have been reported missing.
On some other island countries, due to the nature of the storms we have been seeing in September from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, powerful and lingering storm surges have been creating remarkable rising water levels that continue even days after the storm disappears.