Tens of thousands of Puerto Rico residents are fleeing to Florida after Hurricane Maria, leaving behind an island that is still struggling to regain power more than one month after the storm.
About 70% of the US territory, which is home to approximately 3.4 million US citizens, is still without power. Many do not have access to reliable drinking water.
“Since October 3, 2017, more than 73,000 individuals arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico through Miami International Airport, Orlando International Airport and the Everglades Port,” Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s office said in a statement.
The United States approved Florida to host residents with the help of the Federal Emergency Management Agency on October 5, he said.
“This agreement approves 100% federal reimbursement for costs incurred by the state of Florida related to the accommodation of those displaced by Hurricane Maria,” he said.
The state has opened three disaster relief centers at the main airports in Orlando, Miami, and the Port of Miami for displaced families from Puerto Rico.
Staff from several agencies, including FEMA and the American Red Cross, are in Florida helping incoming residents, he said.
Those heading to the US mainland are leaving behind an island that’s almost in total darkness. Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands are in the midst of the largest blackout in US history,according to a report from an economic research company.
In all, Hurricane Maria has caused a loss of 1.25 billion hours of electricity supply for Americans, according to the analysis from the Rhodium Group. That makes it the largest blackout in US history, well ahead of Hurricane Georges in 1998 and Superstorm Sandy in 2012, the group said.
That 1.25 billion number will continue to grow. More than a month after Hurricane Maria knocked out the electric grid on the islands, the vast majority of residents remain without electricity, and the restoration of that power is months away.
As of Thursday, just 26% of households had power restored, according to the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
The state-owned utility filed for bankruptcy in July, is $9 billion in debt and is struggling to recover from the hurricane outages. Not coincidentally, several of the top 10 blackouts in US history involve Puerto Rico, including Maria and Irma this year and Hurricane Georges in 1998.
Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old utility firm with ties to the Trump administration, was awarded a $300 million contract to help restore the country’s power grid. The huge contract to a small company has drawn questions and criticism.