Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Missed Lessons, Repeated Missteps: How Post-Hurricane Maria Public Health Threats and Trauma Closely Parallel Katrina, According to New CAP Column
Press Release

RELEASE: Missed Lessons, Repeated Missteps: How Post-Hurricane Maria Public Health Threats and Trauma Closely Parallel Katrina, According to New CAP Column

Washington, D.C. ­— Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands exactly six months ago, the federal government’s response has been inexcusably slow, wasteful, and inadequate. As a result, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are experiencing avoidable trauma and public health crises. CAP’s new column takes a closer look at four of these pressing and long-term public health problems­—unreliable power access, mold, toxicant exposure, and trauma—many of which draw strong parallels to problems that unfolded in Gulf Coast communities post-Hurricane Katrina.

Twelve years after Hurricane Katrina, people impacted by the hurricane—particularly families living in poverty and other marginalized populations—have not fully or equitably recovered. For that reason, the pre- and post-disaster similarities between the areas afflicted by Katrina and last year’s hurricanes paint an ominous picture of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands’ long-road to recovery, especially in light of the fact that Hurricanes Irma and Maria have already surpassed Hurricane Katrina’s costs and impact, and will likely exceed her death toll. And with the ensuing hurricane season right around the corner, the federal government needs to pick up the pace to remedy and fortify these already vulnerable islands.

“It’s time policymakers learn from these disasters by rethinking how we safeguard, fortify, and sustain communities in disaster-prone areas and by redesigning our disaster-relief approach to better support these communities through the compounded, reverberating trauma that follows” said Rejane Frederick, associate director for the Poverty to Prosperity Program at CAP. “Let’s ensure that 12 years from now, we are not reliving the same post-Katrina mistakes that now plague Hurricane Irma and Maria recovery efforts.”

“Although Congress has passed relief funding so that federal agencies can continue the critical work of rebuilding Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, it is no longer sufficient or prudent to simply build communities back to their previous state,” said Cristina Novoa, policy analyst for Early Childhood Policy at CAP. “Congress must do more than restore the Puerto Rico of my childhood; it must rebuild a stronger Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands. These islands were vulnerable before the hurricanes struck. Now the recovery goal must be to build back stronger and better in ways that make these communities more equitable, accessible, healthier and resilient.”

Click here to read, “Echoes of Katrina: Post-Hurrican Maria Public Health Threats and Trauma.”

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For more information on this topic or to speak with an expert, please contact Rafael Medina at [email protected] or 202.748.5313.

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