News

Lebanon's Hurricane Maria migration may be permanent, experts say

Written by Daniel Walmer/Lebanon Daily News | Jan 7, 2018 3:07 PM
636501542713086452-MillieHernandez1.JPG

Millie Hernandez, second from right, went back to Puerto Rico to use her skill as a registered nurse following Hurricane Maria. (Photo: Submitted)

(Lebanon) -- It wasn't easy for Marie Olivero to move to Lebanon with her three daughters after her home in Puerto Rico was destroyed by Hurricane Maria.

But since her daughter with special dietary needs is now receiving better medical care from central Pennsylvania doctors, moving back to the island would be even harder. 

"I can go to Puerto Rico for (a) visit, but I prefer to stay here," she said, through an interpreter.

According to community leaders, Olivero's state of mind isn't unusual. In fact, most of the more than 600 Puerto Rican migrants who have already made their homes in Lebanon are probably here to stay.

"People are looking to leave the island and reside somewhere permanently," Kenny Montijo, CEO of the United Way of Lebanon County, said. "I see this as significantly changing the demographic composition of Lebanon County."

Puerto Ricans are United States citizens, uncontrolled by immigration law and permitted to move wherever they want within the country. Even without a natural disaster, many people have been taking advantage of the opportunity to leave the financially struggling island in recent years.

In Lebanon, the increase in the Puerto Rican population is already the city's most significant demographic change since the turn of the millennium. People who identify as Puerto Rican made up just 12.5 percent of the city's population as of the 2000 census, but now comprise 29.2 percent of residents, according to the 2016 American Community Survey.

The sheer extent of Hurricane Maria's devastation will likely accelerate that trend, Montijo said.

"That island has been completely decimated, and it's going to take them decades to restore," he said.

Almost half of the residents of Puerto Rico are still without power, more than three months after the hurricane, according to data recently released by its government.

 "A lot of those folks now are saying that the infrastructure will take so long to get rebuilt in Puerto Rico, that they more than likely are not going to move back to Puerto Rico," said Earnie Meily, vice president of organizational development at Bell & Evans, a Fredericksburg organic chicken producer that employees many people from the island.

Several studies have also found substantial increases in permanent migration following major natural disasters, particularly to areas where there is already a large diaspora population.

"Most people start out thinking their move will be temporary," said Mary Waters, a professor of sociology at Harvard, in an article for news website Vox. "Even now, 12 years after Katrina, people are still thinking they will move back to New Orleans. But temporary moves often lead to permanent ones as people get new jobs, kids start in new schools, etc."

This story comes to us through a partnership between WITF and The Lebanon Daily News

Tagged under , , , ,

back to top

Give Now

Estate Planning

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »

Smart Talk

National Edward R. Murrow Awards

DuPont Columbia Awards

Support Local Journalism

Latest News from NPR

Support for WITF is provided by:

Become a WITF sponsor today »