Local residents ride a horse by a destroyed building after Hurricane Maria in Jayuya, Puerto Rico 4 October 2017. Photo: REUTERS

By Sydney Pereira
11 November 2017

Nearly two months after the Category 4 Hurricane Maria barrelled into Puerto Rico, 60 percent of Puerto Ricans still don’t have power.

That number temporarily surged to 80 percent on Thursday morning, when a power line repaired by Whitefish Energy failed—wiping out power for millions of Puerto Ricans, reported BuzzFeed. Friday morning, the number appeared to have rebounded back to 60 percent without power, according to Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority’s status update.

Around one in five Puerto Ricans still don’t have water, according to PREPA. A lack of cell phone service plagues one in 10 and around 15 percent of gas stations are still closed.

What  looms in the background of the ongoing disaster—and what is far less documented—are the potential health crises that could arise in the wake of such a severe natural disaster.

“After storms and hurricanes, with that level of damage we’re seeing in the Caribbean, one can only surmise that all of these problems are being worsened by the terrible damage from those repeated storms,” said Kim Knowlton, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Excess standing water, lack of access to clean drinking water, and piles of debris are breeding grounds for waterborne and mosquito-borne diseases.

Knowlton, who studied health effects in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy in New York, listed off all the potential public health concerns aside from those illnesses: carbon monoxide poisoning from using generators improperly, spoiled food, unusable medicine, medical devices that don’t work without power, skin infections, and, in the long term, respiratory issues resulting from mold.

Collecting rainwater or using drinking water that itself has to be boiled creates further risk of catching illnesses. But in hard to reach places where access to bottled water or money to buy bottled water may be short, there aren’t other options.

“You would do it, I would do it, anyone would do it,” said Knowlton. “Those containers, unfortunately, can serve where the mosquitoes can live, breed, lay eggs.”

“People are much more likely to be in contact with insects that can carry diseases like dengue,” she said. And Zika, chikungunya, and yellow fever, she added. […]

Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren along with 11 others wrote a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requesting information on the spread of water and vector-borne diseases in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands during the recovery from Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“To date, hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans do not have access to running water; meanwhile, wastewater treatment plants are relying on generator power, and a significant fraction are not operational,” the senators wrote 7 November 2017. “Left with no other options, many Puerto Ricans are bathing, washing clothes, and drinking from unsafe water—including streams and rivers contaminated by raw sewage.” […]

The senators requested the information from the CDC by 21 November 2017. [more]

Lights off in Puerto Rico as power outages and dirty water plague islanders after Hurricane Maria

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