On September 20, 2017, when Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, the media, government officials, and the American public were in awe when the island lost electricity and went dark. More recently it’s been estimated that thousands may have died in the storm and its aftermath. How, in a place that is part of the United States, had this happened?
As a sociologist who studies disasters, I wasn’t surprised. I study the role that communities play in avoiding, preparing, responding to, and recovering from disasters. This view holds that while natural hazards are common, they become disasters due to the social conditions in which they happen.
So if a hurricane strikes a deserted island in the middle of the ocean, that’s not considered a disaster. But when a hurricane hits an island that has been in crisis for many years, as was the case in Puerto Rico, the disaster can be very large.
Hurricane Maria lifted the veil on ...