Hurricane Harvey was devastating in that it caused a massive amount of property damage. Irma was a close call. Power outages and traffic jams were its most far reaching effects. While these two hurricanes were certainly historic, it turns out that last week’s hurricane Maria which hit Puerto Rico with winds of 155 miles per hour as a category 4 is the bigger story; devastating the island, knocking out the power grid, damaging infrastructure and bringing commerce to a standstill.
Even though we’ve taken an in-depth look at Harvey and Irma, We felt it appropriate to comment on Maria. In fact, perhaps Maria merits the most attention. This disaster appears to be what most in the prepping community are most watchful for and that is it appears to be a total “grid-down scenario.” Hurricane Maria made landfall late Wednesday night, September 20th. Puerto Rico, a US Territory since 1917, is home to about 3.5 million US citizens. The aged public infrastructure of the island was particularly susceptible to the violent winds.
In the five days since the direct hit, some details have come through from limited social media and network coverage. Power was quickly knocked out for the entire island and has yet to be restored. The power grid has been down for five days. There is no internet or cell coverage except in limited locales. Electronic payment systems are down. Commerce has ground to a stand still. Most of the trees on island have been uprooted or seriously damaged, shorn of leaves and branches. Flash flooding has devastated buildings and roads. Many, many structures on the island were badly damaged. A major earthen dam called the Guajataca Dam is on the brink of collapse. Located in the northwest part of the island, its collapse could trigger a flood that would threaten the lives of tens of thousands of people. Food and fuel is in short supply. US agencies are airlifting aid to the island but it is a slow process. In summary the situation on the island is dire.
What can we learn from the aftermath of Hurricane Maria?
Grid Down – Extended Power Outage
Power was knocked out to the entire island almost immediately. Certain business and hotels have diesel generators but since fuel supplies are running short those power sources will be unavailable. This leaves almost the entire 3.5 million person population without power. Officials are uncertain how long it will take to restore power, but many are very pessimistic. It’s clear that this outage will be a lengthy one.
“Engineers say it could take months for power to be fully restored.” Source: Yahoo News – Conditions Dire in Puerto Rico
Refugees – Mass Exodus
Many reports indicate that economic conditions on the island prior to the hurricane have precipitated a migration of the younger generation to more auspicious regions. But now that situation is being accelerated. The barely functioning airport is packed with tourists and residents seeking to leave the apocalyptic scene. Were the crisis not confined to an island and if it had affected a large region of America it is not unlikely that we would see masses of refugees moving to wherever they expect they can get their basic needs met and get back on their feet.
Cash Only Economy
Credit Card processing is pretty much non-existent on the island right now. This is obviously because the power and internet infrastructure has been so badly damaged. Although some businesses and markets are open, necessary goods are in limited supply. Some residents wait in long lines for hours only to head home empty handed in time for curfew.
Consider these two quotes from a current Bloomberg article: Cash in Short Supply.
“Cash only,” said Abraham Lebron, the store manager standing guard at Supermax, a supermarket in San Juan’s Plaza de las Armas. He was in a well-policed area, but admitted feeling like a sitting duck with so many bills on hand. “The system is down, so we can’t process the cards. It’s tough, but one finds a way to make it work.”
In Fajardo, a hard-hit coastal area, the paper printouts taped to sheet metal storm shutters read: “Cash only, thank you.” Jenny Rivera Valentin, a 50-year-old hair dresser from Humacao, didn’t mind. She was just glad to find an open store. Her town had been “totally destroyed,” she said. And just about every place was closed.
Perhaps the most notable point in that last quote is that “just about every place was closed.” Reports of commerce are encouraging but the situation in Puerto Rico is becoming dire. When most people depend on commerce for their day to day or week to week necessities a scenario like this can tear at the fabric that holds the society together. We hope that civility prevails in the coming days on the island.
Food and Water
Although we hope for the best for the Puerto Ricans, you can’t eat cash. At this point quoting the scripture from Ezekiel 7:19 really is apropos. “They will fling their silver into the streets and their gold will become an abhorrent thing; their silver and their gold will not be able to deliver them … They cannot satisfy their appetite nor can they fill their stomachs …”
As time moves quickly onward residents are running out of necessary supplies. As you can see from the photograph as the top of this article someone has painted an SOS on the street. In English the message reads. “SOS We need water and food.” Clearly they are hoping for outside help.
Living conditions in hurricane-ravaged Puerto Rico are growing worse by the day, with tired, bewildered people lining up to buy scarce fuel and food Sunday amid a blackout and little to no telephone service. Puerto Ricans are spending hours waiting in line to buy whatever they can, but often go home empty-handed if they do not manage a purchase before a dusk to dawn curfew takes effect.
Source: Yahoo News – Conditions Dire in Puerto Rico
“The federal response to Maria faces obvious logistical challenges beyond those in Texas or Florida. Supplies must be delivered by air or sea, rather than with convoys of trucks.” Source: AP – Feds rush aid to Puerto Rico
In mainstream society most people associate having a 72 hour kit or a bug-out bag with being prepared. Hopefully we can all learn from this situation that (although they are a start) such preps are monumentally insufficient. It took the federal government five days to get water to the Super Dome in New Orleans which was housing refugees after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It appears that it’s taking even longer to help the masses of Puerto Rico due to the fact that it’s an island and most of the basic supplies are being airlifted in. It will probably be weeks before we know the full aftermath. We hope you will recognize the value of having ample food, water and fuel on hand in addition to other preparations both training, coordination and gear that will help you and your family remain self sufficient through a similar crisis.