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US federal government response to the hurricanes was larger and faster in Texas and Florida than in Puerto Rico.

Carlos De Leon's picture
Figure 3: Mortality Rates 2017 Hurricanes, taken from: Willison CE, et al. BMJ Glob Health 2019;4:e001191. doi:10.1136/bmjgh-2018-001191

Researchers from the Department of Health Management and Policy from the University of Michigan School of Public Health in collaboration with the Department of Political Science from the University of Utah published a study quantifying and comparing the US federal disaster response to the 2017 hurricanes that affected Texas (Harvey), Florida (Irma) and Puerto Rico (Maria). They analyzed the response during the first 6 months after the hurricanes made landfall in the study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal BMJ Global Health. The study revealed that the US federal response was larger and faster regarding federal money allocation and staff mobilization in Texas and Florida when compared to Puerto Rico.

The study showed that 6 months after the hurricanes made landfall 13 billons dollars where distributed in federal-aids to survivors in Texas, 3.1 billion were distributed in Florida compared to the 2.3 billion distributed in Puerto Rico. The number of federal personnel on-site 9 days post-landfall was 30,000 in Texas, 16,200 in Florida and just 10,000 in Puerto Rico. Interestingly, the highest number of federal personnel on-site during the first 6 months after landfall was of 19,000 in Puerto Rico compared to 31,000 in Texas and 40,000 in Florida.

Although the disparities revealed in this study are already significant, they become more significant if we consider the magnitude of the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico which resulted in an estimated of 3,040 direct and indirect deaths compared to 103 in Texas and 92 in Florida. The researchers pointed out that it is possible that the unequal federal response could increase health disparities and adverse health outcomes in Puerto Rico. It is important to mention that FEMA did not provide a response to the request of the authors to facilitate the necessary data to prepare this study, the authors relied on publicly available data for their analysis.

We invite the PR-SPAN community to share this study with their networks and ask their legislators to investigate why the federal response was unequal for Puerto Rico when compare to Texas and Florida.