Hurricane Maria and the Human Choices that Kill

On February 2nd, 2018, AnĂ­bal Dones Flores, 54, woke up in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, with an asthma attack. It was almost half a year after Hurricane Maria had savaged the island, but Flores still didn’t have power in his house. His condition grew worse as he labored to awaken his brother, hoping his brother could turn on the generator to power Flores’ breathing machine. The brother called 911, but the dispatchers sent an ambulance from neighboring Juncos, rather than one from San Lorenzo itself. By the time the EMTs arrived, Flores had died.

Flores is one of the thousands killed as a result of Hurricane Maria, a disaster still claiming lives even today, thanks to the severity of the storm, the long neglect of the island’s infrastructure, and, arguably, a willful disinterest from federal disaster officials. The story of his death, along with the deaths of about 475 other Puerto Ricans, was collected through a collaboration between Quartz, Puerto Rico’s Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Associated Press. The project came online even as President Donald Trump was falsely claiming that over 3,000 people didn’t die in the disaster and subsequent response, arguing that he and his administration had done a “fantastic job” supporting the island.

The grim narratives in the project reveal just how badly relief efforts have failed, how long the road is to recovery, and, as we have regularly reported at Pacific Standard over the last year, how disaster recovery will continue to fail if it doesn’t prioritize access for disabled people who are in harm’s way. Instead, even when disaster services are robust, disabled people routinely get ignored or abandoned. In Puerto Rico, where federal efforts fell so short, story after story reveals the extent of preventable deaths in the wake of the hurricane.

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