Large and small Puerto Rican businesses alike are closing their doors a year after Hurricane Maria hit the U.S. island territory, which caused thousands of deaths and billions in destruction.
Maria hit Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, destroying homes, killing thousands, and wrecking the island’s energy systems. The storm was the worst to hit the U.S. territory in close to a century, killing an estimated nearly 3,000 people, a number higher than the 1,800 death toll of Hurricane Katrina. The storm left roughly $90 billion in damage.
Hurricane Irma also hit the island in early September 2017, leaving roughly half of its population without power and killing at least 10 people.
While the territory has had a year to heal, businesses continue to limp along. Puerto Rico’s economy contracted by 7.6 percent between June 2017 and June 2018, and unemployment on the island was 9.1 percent in July. Thousands of small businesses have closed and large corporations are laying off workers and restructuring their operations in an effort to stay afloat. Others are closing altogether.
The island expects its population to decrease by roughly 12 percent over the next five years, according to WSJ.
Roughly 8,000 local businesses have closed since the storm, a number that represents roughly 10 percent of the island’s total, according to United Retailers Association president Jorge Argüelles-Morán. A number of businesses are waiting on insurance payments and others lack coverage completely, according to Argüelles-Morán.
“If we leave, we aggravate the situation,” said 33-year-old restaurant owner Héctor Rosario, who is worried that his business might not survive, The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. “We’re fighters, and we have to give it time.”
Others are not as hopeful and are closing their business and heading for the mainland to start a new life. “It has been really difficult, very stressful,” Puerto Rican resident Ortíz Ramos said, according to WSJ.
Trump approve $16 billion in federal aid for the territory back in February. (RELATED: Trump Challenges Puerto Rico Death Toll Estimates)
The island faces other obstacles that didn’t originate with the Maria but have worsened with the storm’s devastation. A number of job sectors, including manufacturing — which decreased 35 percent since 2006 — have fallen more precipitously since the hurricane hit. The storm has also exasperated the island’s already troublesome homelessness problem.
Other businesses, especially construction companies, door and window providers, and chain stores are doing well as Puerto Ricans rebuild their homes and businesses.
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