Thousands Are Fleeing Puerto Rico. And Don't Know If They Will Ever Return.

Deborah Drahus Capo knew she’d have to leave Puerto Rico the moment she emerged from the bathroom where she had holed up throughout Hurricane Maria last month.

For eight hours straight, the San Juan-based attorney had listened to the wind “howling like a monster,” waiting for the windows in her apartment to break. When the storm subsided, the streets in her neighborhood were blocked with debris and the supermarkets were empty. Her daughter’s house nearby had been flooded. There was no electricity or running water.

Ten days after the storm devastated the island, Drahus Capo boarded a flight to Florida with her daughter and granddaughter in tow. For now, they’re staying at a friend’s home in Miami.

“It’s like they pulled the rug out from under me: I had my life, my clients, and all of a sudden I’m on plane to Miami,” she told HuffPost last week. “What do I plan on doing? I don’t know.”

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico almost one month ago, thousands of residents have left the U.S. territory.  Many are like Drahus Capo ― not knowing when, or if, they’ll return.

The storm, which killed at least 48 people, has cut power for most of the 3.4 million residents of the island and deprived more than a quarter of residents of access to clean drinking water. Most of the recovery seen on the island so far has been concentrated around the capital of San Juan. Entire areas inland remain inaccessible, many supermarkets still don’t carry fresh produce or meat, and many hospitals and clinics are without electricity, leading them to depend on unreliable generators to provide care to the most vulnerable patients.

Life on the island has become a daily struggle, forcing thousands to consider whether a better future lies ahead outside of its borders.

Deborah Drahus Capo (right) with (from bottom) her granddaughter, daughter and niece at the airport in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Deborah Drahus Capo)
It’s hard to know the exact number of Puerto Ricans who have fled the island, or how many of those will eventually return, said Edwin Meléndez, economist and director of the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College in New York.

Puerto Rican news outlet El Nuevo Día estimates tens of thousands of residents have left, and The New York Times reported Florida alone has braced for as many as 100,000 arrivals.

Meléndez and his colleagues, who have analyzed previous migration numbers for Puerto Rico, as well as evacuation patterns from New Orleans after 2005′s Hurricane Katrina, estimate that between 114,000 and 213,000 Puerto Ricans will eventually depart.

Being able to leave and find a place to live elsewhere takes resources, and connections. Flights were difficult to come by after the hurricane, as hundreds of people were stranded at the island’s largest airport in San Juan, which was damaged and closed for days.

“Nobody decides to leave everything just because, and hop on a plane with a load of clothes and whatever else you can fit in a bag,” Drahus Capo said. “I have privilege: I have friends [in the mainland], I have savings in place. But that’s not the case for a lot of people.”

Drahus Capo’s mother still lives on the island ― she is bedridden and would need special, and costly, flight accommodations.

Source: Yahoo news.


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