Expected Duration: Six months to one year
Safety and Security Recommendation: Postpone all non-essential travel
On 4 September 2017, Hurricane Irma impacted Puerto Rico. Irma was a Category 5 storm that left devastation in its wake throughout the Caribbean, killing 12 people and destroying thousands of homes and other infrastructure. Although Puerto Rico avoided the eye of the storm, the electrical grid was knocked offline by wind speeds up to 140 mph, leaving more than one million people in the dark. Three people died during the storm, with the number of fatalities increasing in the ensuing days.
On 20 September, Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico, furthering existing damage from Hurricane Irma. Widespread flooding and storm surge destroyed buildings and left many people trapped and without electricity and clean water. Dozens of people died. The hurricane wiped out approximately 80% of the agriculture on the island, totaling more than $750 million in losses.
Nearly 85% of people remain without power. About half of Puerto Ricans have no cellular service, leaving them isolated from the mainland and other sections of the 35-mile island.
Many locals have left the island, bound for Florida and other nearby U.S. states where they have relatives. The sick and elderly were evacuated first due to lack of power and clean water. The absence of adequate resources can potentially cause more fatalities, especially for the older and infirm population.
Hygiene is also an issue; authorities are concerned that large pools of standing water will yield increased levels of waterborne diseases like Zika. Outbreaks of Hepatitis A, Giardia, and Campylobacter, which can cause cholera, have been reported.
Despite heroic efforts by various charities and volunteer groups to provide items such as food, diapers, and medical supplies not all residents have access to them.
Authorities anticipate it will take at least six months, perhaps as much as a year, to restore the electrical grid and access to clean water for most residents. Cellular service likely will remain intermittent for the same period.
Travelers can expect a severe lack of hotel rooms or other accommodations for at least several months, perhaps for a year.