It’s been over a year since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, but the category 4 storm’s impact is being felt daily on the Caribbean island. Although Puerto Rico’s population has consistently dipped over the last decade, the aftermath of Maria has led nearly 4% of the population — an estimated 130,000 people — to leave the island, the US Census Data reported Wednesday.
“It’s a really large number — and it’s a number that’s well above what we’ve seen in the past,” Alexis Santos, a demographer at Penn State University, said of the population decrease to CNN. “Here, what you’re looking at is double — double the displacement we would have expected” in a year’s time span.
With rampant power outages, which ultimately left many residents without access to basic needs, such as food and water, to critical necessities like medical support, Maria claimed the lives of an estimated 2,975 Puerto Ricans, the government confirms. That rate is 46 times higher than the previous toll they released in December 2017, when officials claimed 64 people had died as a result of Hurricane Maria.
Storm-related deaths and destruction can be directly linked to the mass exodus of residents. Currently, there are 3.2 million people who reside on the U.S. territory, the agency says. Also, data obtained through public records requests by CNN show Puerto Ricans, who are free to move wherever in the country via their citizenship, have moved to every state since Maria hit on September 20, 2017. Based on the network’s analysis, Florida is the top state for those fleeing Puerto Rico; Orlando made the top metro area pick.
HipLatina recently reported on the first study to analyze the second-hand trauma and physiological ramifications of the storm on Florida-based Puerto Ricans. In the study, published in The Counseling Psychologist and conducted by Arizona State University assistant professor Cristalís Capielo, it was determined that trauma did exist, however, Hurricane Maria sparked greater resilience and cultural pride within their community.
As the number of Boricuas leaving Puerto Rico increases, only time will tell how this migration will impact the island and mainland, as well as the position on statehood or independence, among other concerns. What is certain is that despite the lack of government support, Puerto Ricans have created community in ways not expected, redefining homeland and continuing to preserve their way of life despite the odds being stacked against them.