Hurricane Irma, one of strongest storms ever recorded in the Atlantic, has recently wreaked havoc on several Caribbean islands and is on a path towards the southern U.S. A whole lot of outlets have centered on the devastation the storm could do to states like Florida and Georgia, but fewer have noticed that Irma already had a massive impact on yet another area of the U.S.: Puerto Rico. Whilst the country gears up to help those in the trail of the storm, MTV shares 9 things you need to know concerning the commonwealth south of Florida.
1. About 3.5 million people reside in Puerto Rico, an island around three times the size of Rhode Island. In contrast, Hurricane Irma is approximately the size of Ohio.
2. Puerto Rico is a commonwealth of the U.S., however the relationship is … complicated. Above all, Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens. They are also subject to U.S. federal laws, but are exempt from paying some federal taxes and do not vote in presidential elections. Compared to its populace, Puerto Rico also does not receive as much federal funding on programs like Medicaid as the 50 states.
3. Just a couple of months ago, nearly all Puerto Ricans voted to become full U.S. state for the first time.
4. Irma couldn’t have come at a worse time for Puerto Rico. The island filed for bankruptcy in May of this year, after a recession that’s been going on since 2006, and is an astonishing $123 billion in debt. Trump made his opposition to a bailout for the country known in April.
5. In May, Puerto Rico announced plans to close 184 public schools before this coming school year – part of an attempt to diminish their debt load. These closures will affect around 27,000 students – most in the fourth grade or below – and 2,700 teachers.
6. This finances has also resulted in a “brain drain”: A large number of Puerto Ricans have left the island in recent years to find opportunities elsewhere. Students have made up about two-thirds of this population decline.
7. Students aren’t the only residents leaving the island: A large number of professionals which range from teachers, to healthcare workers, to construction industry workers have moved lately. Entire industries have even left.
8. Puerto Rico’s public electric company, which scale back on staff and maintenance amid this financial crisis, warned that Irma’s destruction could cause some regions of the island losing power for 4-6 months. Significantly more than 1 million clients in Puerto Rico had already lost power before the storm hit.
9. There are actually ways to help Puerto Rico get over Irma! The humanitarian organization Convoy of Hope has already been raising money for all those hit by Irma and Puerto Rican New Yorkers also have launched efforts to help the island.