A searing investigation of the factors that devastated Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, from acclaimed investigative reporter Michael Deibert.
When Hurricane Maria roared across Puerto Rico in September 2017, it devastated the island. It was an unprecedented natural disaster, a Category 5 major hurricane, and ultimately responsible for the deaths of more than 3,000 people. It also ripped away the facade that had dominated discussions of the island’s relationship with the United States for over a century.
This is the first book to comprehensively expose what happened during Hurricane Maria, why Puerto Rico was so poorly prepared, and why a US territory, an island of American citizens, was largely ignored by the federal government in the wake of a catastrophic natural disaster.
Using a blend of history and on-the-ground reportage, Michael Deibert pulls back the veil of the island known for its powdery beaches, rainforests, and apricot-and-lavender sunsets to reveal the trajectory for the decisions that set it on the path to the disaster that came during and in the wake of the storm, when its entire power grid and much of its water supply was knocked out. In doing so, he also reveals the stories of everyday heroism, compassion, and unexpected joy that have defined the island before and after Hurricane Maria.
In this impassioned analysis, journalist Deibert (Haiti Will Not Perish) explores the role of the U.S.'s territorial relationship with Puerto Rico in the context of the damage wrought on the island by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Once a Spanish territory, Puerto Rico became a U.S. territory following the Mexican-American War, administered by a governor and an 11-member panel appointed by Congress. Deibert recounts a history of inhumane treatment and economic exploitation: thousands of Puerto Rican women were forcibly sterilized in the 1930s; workers received unlivable wages on the sugar plantations; and Puerto Ricans marching for workers' rights and independence were continually met with brutal police violence until as late as 2007. All the while, the often-corrupt government and outside investors exploited the island's resources and drove it into debt. The commonwealth's second-class status without independent finances or voter representation in the government controlling it, the island's infrastructure had greatly deteriorated rendered it unable to respond to the hurricane's destruction, and the U.S. government failed to launch a significant relief effort for months. Deibert reports that, a month after the hurricane, 80% of the population was still without power, schools had not been reopened, and 5,000 people were still living in shelters. This grim account of the U.S.'s treatment of this territory will shock readers not familiar with the details.