The devastation from Hurricane Maria pushed 300,000 people out of Puerto Rico, depopulating the island at a faster rate than ever.
But the exodus started long before last September’s back-to-back hurricanes.
The natural disasters piled onto a wave of "millennial migration" that saw at least 525,769 Puerto Ricans leave the island between 2006 and 2016. The U.S. territory’s fiscal crisis and crumbling infrastructure were key factors in migration patterns during that period.
Former San Juan resident Pablo Prieto says, “It's always been a thing. A lot of kids are told their options are limited in Puerto Rico — and they kind of are.” Now in Davie, Florida, the database administrator hadn’t lived on the mainland before Hurricane Maria.
Puerto Rico could lose around 470,000 residents between 2017 and 2019 because of post-Maria devastation, according to data analysis by City University of New York’s Center for Puerto Rican Studies. Those who left after the hurricane are mostly concentrated in Florida and the northeast.
A lack of job opportunities, rising living costs, and government corruption rank high among the reasons evacuees are wary of returning.
Entrepreneur Ceci Jayo relocated from San Juan after Hurricane Maria in order to sustain her graphic design company and says she will return at some point. “It's just going to get probably a little worse before it gets better.”
But because of widespread resentment on the island about Puerto Rico's relationship to the U.S., moving to the mainland presents an inner conflict for some. “Living here almost feels like living in the room of the house of your abusive parents. The reason why Puerto Rico is what it is right now is because of the U.S,” says Sofía Diaz, a hurricane survivor living in south Florida.