Residents of Puerto Rico probably now realize it. Hurricane Maria ripped out much of what makes life modern, shutting off electricity, closing roads and limiting access to money and fuel.
President Trump is traveling to the island today to see firsthand just how much disruption has occurred. In his past life, Trump could have taken an elevator downstairs from his home at Trump Tower, gotten money from an ATM and bought food at a restaurant without stepping outside. His was a modern life, sequestered. What he’ll see in Puerto Rico is the opposite of that.
The government of Puerto Rico has created a site, status.pr, that tracks how much of the island’s infrastructure has come back online. The data are updated regularly, allowing us to track how progress is being made.
Take cellphone coverage, for example. There are still relatively few cell towers that are operational. (Data for Sept. 29 comes from the Internet Archive.)
But the amount of the island that has cell coverage has ticked upward.
Still, though, 60 percent of Puerto Rico lacks cellphone coverage. Of course, having cellphone service is less useful when there’s no electricity — which, for much of the island, there isn’t. Only about 7 percent of the electric utility customers on the island have service.
That has a ripple effect. The lack of electric service means that many places can’t accept credit cards. Since most people don’t keep large amounts of cash on-hand, that means relying on ATMs to be able to buy groceries and other critical products. About a quarter of the island’s ATMs are functioning. (Blank dials indicate a lack of data or no update from previous days.)
And the net result is lengthy lines for cash — visible even Tuesday morning.
Supermarkets and gas stations are slowly reopening.
It’s important to note that “operational” here has a specific definition: A facility that has received a delivery of gas at least once since the hurricane. Those deliveries, the site notes, might last only a few hours.
There’s another critical problem: A lack of water.
Less than half the country has water (which is also in part because of the lack of electricity, since pumps require power).
Notice that the percentage fell between Monday and Tuesday. Data is broken out by region, and the percentage of those in the northern region with access to water was revised downward over that period.
The restoration of water (and other things, certainly) is uneven. In cities, more than half of customers have water service.
In the southern region, nearly three-quarters.
This, it seems, is the story of the restoration of modern society: It’s slower and trickier than wiping it all away. The universe tends toward chaos.
One other key statistic that will probably play an important role over the coming weeks and months is worth mentioning. The most recent assessment indicated that a quarter of commercial flights were operational as of Monday, including 38 daily domestic flights within the United States.
Those with the means to avail themselves of a return to the trappings of modern society will likely do so.