By Carolyn Gramling
Hurricane Maria roared across Puerto Rico in late September 2017. The storm caused an estimated $90 billion in damage, demolished the power grid and left more than half of the island’s residents without safe drinking water.
Dachiramarie Vila recalls the smell of gasoline from generators choking the air.
“The smell was everywhere,” says Vila, a 33-year-old mother of two, through a translator. “We felt that we were breathing all those gases night and day.”
The storm flattened Vila’s wooden home, forcing her family to move to her parents’ house, which was also damaged. Then Vila’s 13-year-old son began peeing blood, she says, probably from drinking contaminated water. There was little medical assistance available.
But when it comes to projecting such movements into the future, as climate change rapidly transforms landscapes on a never-before-seen scale, “I don’t think we know that much at the moment,” says Amir Jina, an environmental economist at the University of Chicago. “It’s hard to think of what’s going to happen with long-term [climate] change.”