In trying to understand Hurricane Maria’s political and socio-economic effects on Puerto Rico, I have been doing research on Hurricane Georges’s impact on the island in 1998. Georges made landfall on September 21 as Category 3 hurricane. The storm’s eye-wall entered the island south of Humacao and exited north of Cabo Rojo. A lot of the destruction was associated with Georges’s heavy rainfall which topped at 30 inches in Jayuya.
On October 30, 1998, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) noted that the Puerto Rican government administered 416 shelters, housing around 28,000 individuals. Georges claimed the lives of 8 Puerto Ricans; one as a direct result of the hurricane and seven were classified as indirect deaths. The CDC collected this information from Puerto Rico’s Institute for Forensic Science.
How many shelters did the Puerto Rican government establish before Hurricane Maria made landfall and how many Puerto Ricans have resided in these facilities?
Surprisingly, the Puerto Rican government only operated 160 shelters after Hurricane Maria. Even though Maria was more destructive than Georges, data collected from Status.pr demonstrate that these shelters housed up to 11,105 people.
As of December 10, the government is administering 39 shelters with 737 still living there. At this rate, some of these Puerto Ricans will be celebrating the holidays in these shelters.
The difference between Georges and Maria are quite stark in terms of the number of shelters and people living in these facilities. Why? Did Georges destroy more homes than Maria? How do these numbers compare to Hurricane Hugo?
In terms of Hugo, a CDC study found that the Puerto Rican government established 161 shelters, housing an estimated 10,300 persons. Compared to Georges and Maria, Hugo was less destructive, mostly affecting Vieques, Culebra and the towns of Humacao, Ceiba, Fajardo, Luquillo, Rio Grande and Canovanas.
Why are we seeing such a low number of shelters and shelterees today? Can the island’s shrinking population explain this anomaly?
|Hurricane||Estimated Total Population||Highest Number of Shelterees||Percentage of Population in Shelters|
It is important to note that the total population estimate was calculated by the U.S. Census. The figure for Maria represents the U.S. Census estimate for 2016 as this year’s estimate is not available. But what is clear is that today’s numbers are comparable to Hugo’s and lower than the Georges’s.
This issue deserves more research. It would be interesting to see whether we could have a better understanding of where the shelters were established, how many people resided in these facilities and for how long. I wonder if these data are available for Hurricanes Georges and Hugo too. More importantly, how many shelters were opened before Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico? How many people rode out the storm in these buildings? How many people resided in these shelters in the first days after the storm?
Given the available data, it seems that more people lived in shelters following Hurricane Georges than Hurricane Maria. This reality raises one important question: how accurate are the Puerto Rican government’s current statistics? Are there any shelters established by private donors, such as churches or the Red Cross, not included in the government’s tallies? And if so, how many people have they helped?
This is an interesting puzzle and I will further investigated in future posts.