Segments in this Video

Introduction: Blackout in Puerto Rico (02:14)


Correspondent Laura Sullivan investigates the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria. The disasters and government response leave residents without power, fresh water, and other essentials for months. (Credits)

Unprecedented Disaster (03:35)

Puerto Rico was still rebuilding from Hurricane Irma when it was hit by Hurricane Maria, destroying the infrastructure. President Donald Trump gave a positive assessment of the relief response, but evidence suggesting otherwise mounted.

Hurricane Maria Aftermath (05:11)

Sullivan visited Puerto Rico four months after Maria. FEMA and the military struggled to provide basic needs to towns along the northeast coast. Logistical challenges made it difficult to provide water and power.

Puerto Rico History (04:03)

The U.S. took possession of the island in 1898. Puerto Ricans received citizenship but not full constitutional rights. A 1970s tax break sparked an economic boom, but it was phased out in 1996, leading to recession. The government began borrowing to cover deficits.

Wall Street Maneuvers (09:35)

Puerto Rico found a financial lifeline in the municipal bond market. Because Puerto Rico is not a state, it had a special advantage in selling bonds. The bonds became risky and the bubble burst in 2013.

Puerto Rico Defaults (03:08)

UBS and four other banks were fined for practices that failed to protect Puerto Rican clients. Billions of dollars of wealth on the island were wiped out, and the government owed more than $70 billion. Congress put Puerto Rico on a path to bankruptcy.

Wall Street Bailed Out (03:25)

Banks had hundreds of millions of dollars tied up in Puerto Rican debt; bond documents revealed almost 25% of the 2014 bond deal went for repayment. Investors struggled to get their money back.

Caught Off Guard (05:02)

Not only was the island unprepared for the disaster, so was the federal government. FEMA documents and communications showed that key emergency supplies were dangerously low or not available at all when Maria hit. The agency made arrangements with contractors to get more tarps.

Blue Roof Problems (05:42)

A program run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided storm victims with a temporary roof. An internal review by the Puerto Rican government showed that only about 45% of those that asked for a roof had gotten one after three months.

Beyond Supplies (05:08)

FEMA was stretched so thin that half of its staff on Puerto Rico were trainees or unqualified for disaster work. To expedite power restoration, the Army Corps of Engineers turned to Fluor, a company with experience building power plants but no experience putting power grids back together.

Bleak Future (04:51)

The estimates for rebuilding ran as high as $90 billion. Congress approved nearly $30 billion, but lawmakers were reluctant to dole out more until they saw evidence the island could better manage its fiscal affairs. Many residents have opted to leave the island.

Credits: Blackout in Puerto Rico (01:01)

Credits: Blackout in Puerto Rico

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Blackout in Puerto Rico

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In Blackout in Puerto Rico, FRONTLINE and NPR investigate the humanitarian and economic crisis in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. The film examines how the federal response, Wall Street, and years of neglect have left the island struggling to survive.

Length: 54 minutes

Item#: BVL188601

Copyright date: ©2018

Closed Captioned

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