Horrifying stories of Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico’s sickest and most vulnerable are now trickling in: a newborn who couldn’t get a scheduled surgery for her heart defectbecause the storm closed down her hospital, an elderly woman with diabetes struggling to keep her life-sustaining insulin cool.
One theme underlying many of these tales: Power outages throw the health care system into chaos. As Vox’s Brian Resnick explained, the storm knocked out power for the entire island, and five days later, most of Puerto Rico’s 3.4 million residents are still in the dark. Some hospitals are now running generators, but many households will have to wait up to six months for power to be restored.
We often take electricity for granted, and don’t typically associate it with public health. A lot of the ways they’re tied together are hidden. But when the power is out, it becomes painfully clear how much the medical, public health, and sanitation systems rely on the electrical grid to keep people safe and healthy.
Not long ago, researchers at Public Health England decided to scan the medical literatureto learn what was known about power outages and health with more extreme weather events threatening power systems around the world. They summarized their findings in the only systematic review of the research on the subject — and in this useful chart:
So imagine all the above systems down indefinitely: potable water, transportation, perishable food and medicine storage, communication, safety, and more. On an island where all these systems are isolated and everything needed to repair these systems has to be shipped in.
Three and a half million people without these systems for months, best case scenario.
And Donald Goddamn Trump in charge of fixing it.
This is going to be an enduring nightmare. Yes, flooded Houston and the wrecked Florida Keys face a similar situation, but the logistics of getting help to those affected is much easier than getting help to Puerto Rico or the US Virgin Islands right now. There's not an immediate public safety crisis for millions brewing. Yes, recovery for Houston and the Keys will take years, and there's a very good chance both those areas will get struck by another major hurricane again before they can fully recover.
But Puerto Rico, right now, today, is on the brink of disaster. People aren't going to make it months or even weeks without help now, and Trump is too busy yelling at the teevee for it to matter to him.
This is precisely the scenario I expected would unfold with Trump running the show, and the results are going to be horrific.