Puerto Rico struggles to assess hurricane’s health effects
Nightfall sets a hard deadline for a team of public-health researchers in Puerto Rico. Since Hurricane Maria hit on 20 September, leaving large swathes of the island without a reliable power supply, the scientists have rushed home each night to avoid being in the streets after dark. Many lack running water, and most have limited telephone access.
Yet the team –— co-led by José Cordero of the University of Georgia in Athens — has managed to contact several hundred women to begin assessing whether Hurricane Maria has worsened drinking-water contamination, stress and infectious disease that could harm developing fetuses. This wasn’t what the researchers set out to study six years ago when they started a project to assess the impact of pollution on pre-term births. But Cordero's team is one of several research groups have scrambled to quantify Hurricane Maria’s immediate health impacts, even as team members struggle to fulfil their own basic needs.
The devastation that Cordero saw on a recent visit to Puerto Rico, his birthplace, shocked him. “I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t,” he says.