Exactly five years after the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria, the nation of Puerto Rico has once again lost power, reflecting a larger problem with the island's infrastructure.
Puerto Ricans braced themselves as Tropical Storm Fiona made landfall Friday. On Sunday, the exact date of Hurricane Maria five years prior, Fiona grew into a category one hurricane. Despite Fiona being much weaker than Maria, the entire island lost power.
Every fall, Puerto Ricans prepare for the height of storm season under their fragile power grid. Even the lightest winds could result in over 500,000 households losing power as the overwhelmed grid causes blackouts and brownouts throughout the year, even in times without inclement weather.
Sergio Marxuach, policy director at the Center for a New Economy, a nonpartisan Puerto Rican organization that advocates for the development of the island's infrastructure, told NBC that part of the fallout can be attributed to federal and local agencies who fail to coordinate with one another.
“Five years later, we are still exposed to the same risk,” Marxuach said. “Progress will continue to be slow unless we find a solution."
On September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria decimated Puerto Rico, causing the second-longest blackout in world history. Nearly 3,000 people died in the aftermath of the Category 4 storm, most attributed to the lack of power and the subsequent interruption of medical services, as even hospitals and nursing homes went extended periods of time without electricity.
Research from The British Medical Journal Open shows that around 500 Puerto Ricans, most over the age of 65, died on the U.S. mainland “due to the systematic effects on the displaced." Over 200,000 people fled to the mainland from the island in the months following the storm.
The Biden administration and the Puerto Rican government seek to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity by 2050. Currently, 4 percent of the island's grid is supplied by sustainable power. The Federal Emergency Management Agency allotted $9.5 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico's power grid, marking the largest public infrastructure project in history.
Hurricane Maria totaled an estimated $90 billion in damages. Congress granted $71 billion in reconstruction aide, $62 billion of which has reached the island's government. Puerto Rico's non-voting representative, Jenniffer Gonzalez, shared that 72 percent of those funds have not reached local communities.
This morning, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in the Turks and Caicos Islands, as well as the Dominican Republic. Now Category 3 , wind speeds have reached 115 miles per hour with over 20 inches of rain forecasted. Both Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic have reported deaths from the conditions of the storm, which is set to strengthen in the coming days.