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Study critiques federal Hurricane Maria response

Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria
Kris Grogan
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
Homes lay in ruin as seen from a U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Air and Marine Operations, Black Hawk during a flyover of Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria September 23, 2017.

Federal aid was slower and less generous in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria than comparable disasters in Texas and Florida. That's according to a new University of Michigan study.

Three hurricanes occurred within a period of just over a month. Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017, near Rockport, Texas. Hurrican Irma hit the Florida keys on September 10. And Maria began its sweep through Puerto Rico on September 20.

The study found survivors of Harvey in Texas and Irma in Florida received about $100 million dollars each in aid within nine days of landfall. At that same time, Maria survivors had received just $6 million. It took four months for disaster relief for Puerto Rico to reach the level that Florida and Texas received in two months.

And significantly fewer people responded on site in Puerto Rico. There were 31,000 federal emergency responders on site for Hurricane Harvey in the six months after landfall, and 40,000 for Irma. However, just 19,000 personnel assisted on site for the Hurricane Maria recovery.

Scott Greer is with the UM School of Public Health. He says most of the nearly 3,000 deaths attributed to Maria may have been preventable.

"There's no reason structurally in the storm Maria that it couldn't have had the very low death tolls that we saw with Irma and Harvey," says Greer.

About two hundred people died in Harvey and Irma combined. Federal government officials say Puerto Rico's infrastructure presented challenges in responding to the hurricane.

The study will be published in the British Medical Journal Global Health.

Catherine Shaffer joined Michigan Radio in 2014. She works in the newsroom and specializes in stories related to the life sciences, health, and technology. Catherine earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Michigan State University and a Master’s from University of Michigan. Prior to Michigan Radio, Catherine has worked as a freelance writer, mainly in focusing on biotechnology and the pharmaceutical industry, since 2001. She is also an award-winning fiction writer. When not at work, Catherine enjoys being in the outdoors and practicing yoga.