Puerto Ricans got their first view of the ruin brought on by Hurricane Maria, which swept across the island Wednesday, leaving a trail of destroyed homes, floodwaters, and 100 percent of the territory without power.
But they were not the only ones.
“Definitely Puerto Rico — when we can get outside — we will find our island destroyed,” said Abner Gomez, director of the State Agency for Emergency Management and Disaster Management (AEMEAD). “The information we received is not encouraging. It’s a system that has destroyed everything it has had in its wake.”
While officials warn it could take months to restore power to Puerto Rico and assess the full extent of Marie’s destruction — as with Irma before — it should also serve as a reminder that the Caribbean island was not the only unincorporated U.S. territory hard-hit by recent hurricanes.
“The United States Virgin Islands no longer has the air of paradise,” The New York Times reported last week on the aftermath of Hurricane Irma. “The Red Hook harbor in St. Thomas was desolate on a recent visit except for a few stragglers trying to evacuate. Newly homeless residents in Tutu Valley idled in 90-degree heat outside their ravaged homes.”
St. Thomas and St. John were two small islands particularly hard-hit as Category 5 Irma passed over the Virgin Islands, taking with it homes, buildings, boats and many vestiges of civilization. Four people died in damage described as “apocalyptic.”
And that was before Maria.
“I had three islands — St. John, St. Thomas and Water Island — devastated by Hurricane Irma, and St. Croix was our base for restoration and recovery,” U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp told WBUR Thursday. “And then here came Maria, and Maria decided, well, she wanted a piece of the Virgin Islands as well, and so a good section of St. Croix on the western end really got hammered hard.”
Mapp also predicted it would take months to restore power to the entire island.
On Wednesday, communications are remaining down and the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Tourism is investigating widespread wreckage and flooding left behind in St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John — the hardest hit by Maria. Officials are also recommending tourists — the region’s economic driver — to postpone trips as they work to recover from back-to-back storms.
Puerto Rico may be now in the spotlight of disaster, but there was more than enough devastation to go around.