A Comprehensive Look at Hurricane Maria in 2023

By: HowStuffWorks  | 
hurricane maria
Maria was a Category 5 hurricane, wreaking havoc in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Stocktrek Images / Getty Images/Stocktrek Images

Hurricane Maria, a devastating Category 5 storm, left a trail of destruction across the Caribbean in September 2017. The impact was particularly severe in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, where thousands of lives were lost and entire communities were left in ruins. In the years that followed, the debate surrounding the official death count and the question of adequate aid and assistance have been at the forefront of discussions. This blog post aims to provide a comprehensive look at Hurricane Maria in 2023, examining its formation, impact, aftermath, and the ongoing debate surrounding its consequences, as well as the lessons learned from this catastrophic event.

Short Summary
  • Hurricane Maria caused catastrophic destruction and left an estimated $91.61 billion in damages when it passed through the northeastern Caribbean in 2017.
  • The U.S government has provided $36 billion for recovery efforts, with Puerto Rico receiving $5 billion of that sum, while non-governmental organizations have also played a role in providing relief to 116,003 people affected by the hurricane.
  • An ongoing debate on discrepancies between official death count and estimations reveals an underlying need for improved data collection during disasters


The Formation and Impact of Hurricane Maria

Hurricane Maria, a monster of a storm, formed in September 2017 and caused widespread devastation across the northeastern Caribbean. The hurricane’s center passed close to Dominica, resulting in catastrophic damage, before making landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 storm.

The Virgin Islands, particularly Saint Croix, were also left reeling from the significant impacts of Maria. The hurricane left a staggering $91.61 billion in damages in its wake, making it the fourth-costliest tropical cyclone on record.


The Birth of a Monster: Tropical Storm Maria

Tropical Storm Maria rapidly intensified into a Category 5 hurricane due to a combination of high sea surface temperatures and low wind shear. As a storm chaser closely monitored the hurricane, they provided valuable information to affected regions, including updates on tropical storm conditions. Maria attained Category 5 status with sustained winds of 175 mph on September 19, just one day after being classified as a Category 3 storm. This rapid intensification made Maria the most powerful hurricane on record to make landfall in Dominica, occurring during the same hurricane season as Hurricane Irma, another devastating storm that wreaked havoc in the Caribbean region.

Maria’s wrath was felt across the Caribbean, causing extensive flooding and damage as a result of fallen trees and other debris. The Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Turks and Caicos were all severely affected. The storm’s intensity and size left a lasting impact on the region, with many communities struggling to recover in the aftermath.

Destruction in the Caribbean: Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

In Puerto Rico, the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria was unprecedented. The aftermath was nothing short of a nightmare for Puerto Ricans, who faced:

  • Homes, roads, and bridges being obliterated
  • A total power outage enveloping the entire island
  • Severe flooding leaving many areas submerged under water
  • Food and water shortages
  • Water-related disease outbreaks
  • Closed hospitals and schools due to extensive damage

The island’s economy, reliant on agriculture and tourism, was left in ruins, with the estimated cost of damages reaching a staggering $94 billion, especially impacting the east coast.

The Virgin Islands, located on the West Coast, also bore the brunt of Hurricane Maria’s fury, with coastal flooding and storm surge causing significant damage to infrastructure and livelihoods. The hurricane’s aftermath left many people in dire need of assistance, highlighting the necessity for a robust and coordinated response to such natural disasters.


The Aftermath: Recovery and Challenges

The aftermath of Hurricane Maria saw Puerto Rico face immense challenges, including:

  • A lack of sustainable sources of food, power, and income
  • Many residents forced to flee to mainland U.S. states in search of a better life
  • Hospitals and public buildings remaining severely damaged
  • The island’s economy being severely impacted by the storm

Despite these challenges, the people of Puerto Rico have shown incredible resilience in the face of adversity.


Major Humanitarian Crisis: A Struggling Island

The impact of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico’s infrastructure led to a major humanitarian crisis, with residents left without access to:

  • roads
  • healthcare
  • electrical power
  • cellular communication
  • clean drinking water

The lack of electricity, clean water, and essential supplies caused immense suffering and hardship for Puerto Ricans, who faced difficulty in obtaining basic necessities.

In response to the dire situation, the U.S. government provided aid and assistance to Puerto Rico, including funding for recovery efforts. Non-governmental organizations also stepped in, offering invaluable support and resources to those affected by the hurricane.

Despite these efforts, the challenges faced by Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria remain immense, and the road to recovery is a long and arduous one.

San Juan Mayor's Response and Leadership

San Juan Mayor played a pivotal role in spearheading recovery efforts in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. She collaborated closely with the National Hurricane Center and other agencies to ensure that the island was provided with the necessary resources and support. Her leadership and commitment to the people of Puerto Rico were critical in navigating the challenges faced during the recovery process.

In addition to her work with the National Hurricane Center, San Juan Mayor also interacted with a variety of agencies, including the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the US Army Corps of Engineers, and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Her tireless efforts and dedication to the people of Puerto Rico undoubtedly had a significant impact on the island’s recovery process.


Comparing Hurricanes: Maria vs. Irma

Both Hurricane Maria and Hurricane Irma struck the Caribbean during the 2017 hurricane season, causing extensive damage and destruction. While there are similarities between the two storms, such as their classification as Category 5 hurricanes at some point during their development and their impact on Puerto Rico, there are also notable differences in their intensity and areas of effect.

Maria was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico in recorded history, with maximum sustained winds when Maria hit the island.


Similarities and Differences between Maria and Irma

Maria and Irma shared several similarities, such as their paths through the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean region. Both storms caused substantial damage and destruction, particularly in Puerto Rico. However, there were also key differences between the two hurricanes. Irma was a Category 5 storm for a longer period, while Maria reached Category 5 status for a shorter duration. Furthermore, Irma had a wider wind field than Maria, indicating that it had a wider area of effect.

The consequences of both Maria and Irma were catastrophic, with both storms causing considerable damage to infrastructure, homes, and businesses in the Caribbean region. Moreover, the storms caused extensive flooding and landslides, which further compounded the damage and made recovery efforts more difficult.

Lessons Learned and Future Preparedness

The devastating effects of Hurricanes Maria and Irma have highlighted the need for better preparedness and response efforts in the face of such powerful storms. One lesson that can be gleaned from these hurricanes is the importance of accurate data collection and analysis, as well as improved communication and coordination between government agencies.

Increased funding for disaster relief and recovery efforts is also essential, as billions of dollars in damages caused by these storms have placed a significant burden on the affected regions. By learning from the experiences of Maria and Irma, we can work towards building a more resilient and prepared future in the face of such natural disasters.


The Ongoing Debate: Official Death Count and Controversy

The official death count of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico has been a subject of controversy since the storm struck the island. While the official number stands at 64, there are discrepancies in the numbers, and some estimates suggest that the true figure could be much higher.

This debate highlights the difficulties in accurately determining the number of deaths caused by the hurricane and the need for better data collection and analysis.


Discrepancies in Official Numbers

One reason behind the discrepancies in the official death count is the lack of accurate data collection, as well as the complexity of determining the cause of death in the aftermath of the hurricane. While the official death count is 64, some estimations suggest that the true figure could be 22 percent higher, with a total of 2,975 excess deaths related to the hurricane.

This difference in numbers illustrates the importance of collecting accurate information during and after a disaster, as well as the need for better communication and coordination between various agencies tasked with gathering and analyzing data.

The Harvard Study: A Higher Estimate

In 2018, an extensive research project conducted by Harvard University aimed to accurately estimate the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico. The study found that over 4,600 fatalities may have occurred as a result of the hurricane, a significantly higher figure than the official death count.

These findings suggest that the official death count of 64 may be a gross underestimation, and that the true death toll could be significantly higher. The response of the U.S. government to Hurricane Maria has been widely criticized for being slower and less comprehensive than the response to Hurricane Harvey in Texas. This controversy surrounding the death count underscores the need for better preparedness and response efforts in the face of such devastating storms.


The Road to Recovery: Aid and Assistance

In the wake of Hurricane Maria, various forms of aid and assistance were provided to Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The U.S. government approved a significant sum of $5 billion in aid for Puerto Rico, while non-governmental organizations such as World Vision provided critical support and resources to those affected by the hurricane.

World Vision, for example, provided food, water, and hygiene kits to those in need.


U.S. Government Response and Funding

Congress approved a total of $36 billion in federal aid for Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma, with Puerto Rico receiving $5 billion of that sum. This funding was crucial in helping the island recover from the extensive damage caused by the hurricane, but the challenges faced by Puerto Ricans in the aftermath of the storm remain immense.

The federal government’s response to Hurricane Maria has been a topic of debate, with some critics arguing that the aid provided was insufficient and slow to arrive. Despite these criticisms, the aid and assistance provided by the U.S. government has played an important role in the recovery efforts in Puerto Rico.

Non-Governmental Organizations and Relief Efforts

In addition to the aid provided by the U.S. government, non-governmental organizations such as World Vision played a crucial role in the recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria. World Vision offered multiple services to Puerto Ricans affected by the hurricane, including:

  • Food
  • Relief items
  • Cash assistance
  • Disaster preparedness training
  • Child protection programs

These services were provided to 116,003 people.

These organizations’ efforts were vital in alleviating the suffering of many Puerto Ricans and enabling them to begin the process of rebuilding their lives. The work of non-governmental organizations highlights the importance of collaboration and coordinated response efforts in the face of catastrophic events such as Hurricane Maria.



In conclusion, Hurricane Maria left an indelible mark on the Caribbean, particularly in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. The storm’s catastrophic impact, the ongoing debate surrounding the official death count, and the lessons learned from this tragic event serve as a stark reminder of the need for better preparedness, response efforts, and collaboration in the face of such powerful natural disasters. As we move forward, it is essential to learn from the experiences of Hurricane Maria and work towards building a more resilient and prepared future.

This article was created using AI technology.