NEW YORK – More than 470,000 Puerto Ricans may leave the island for the mainland United States in the next two years due to the effects of Hurricane Maria, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies says in a report released on Thursday.
“Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico and its population is unprecedented,” authors Edwin Melendez and Jennifer Hinojosa wrote.
The Category 4 storm hammered the US commonwealth on Sept. 20, knocking out utilities and telecommunications and leaving many roads impassable.
Officially, Maria is blamed for 48 deaths in Puerto Rico, where fewer than 20 percent of households have seen their power restored nearly a month after the hurricane struck.
“From 2017 to 2019, we estimate that Puerto Rico may lose up to 470,335 residents, or 14 percent of the population,” Melendez and Hinojosa said.
That total could include up to nearly 43,000 school-age children.
“In other words, Puerto Rico will lose the same population in a span of a couple of years after Hurricane Maria as the island lost during a prior decade of economic stagnation,” according to the research brief from the center, which is based at New York’s Hunter College.
Last year, the number of Puerto Ricans living in the mainland US reached 5.5 million, compared with 3.5 million living on the island.
The authors expect Florida to be the state most affected by the exodus from Puerto Rico.
If the center’s projections are accurate, Florida will overtake New York to become the state with the largest Puerto Rican community.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on Wednesday that more than 58,000 Puerto Ricans have arrived in the Sunshine State since Oct. 3.
Total employment in Puerto Rico is likely to decline significantly “given the collapse of the electrical system and the prognosis that it will take months to restore electricity to urban areas were jobs are concentrated, and even close to a year to restore electricity to more remote areas,” the center said.