Even before Maria strafed the region, a record number of Puerto Ricans were realizing that the declining island might be where their heart is but cannot be where their feet stay. Nearly 500,000 people left Puerto Rico for the mainland during the past decade, according to the Pew Research Center, pushing the stateside Puerto Rican population past the number living on the island last year — an estimated 3.3 million.
The government of Puerto Rico’s guess is that by the end of 2018, 200,000 more residents will have left the U.S. territory for good, moving to places such as Florida, New York, Texas, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and New England. It would mean another drop of more than 5 percent in the island’s population.
Experts say the storm and its widespread devastation undoubtedly have sped up the pace of migration as residents have dealt with extended power outages, communication lapses, infrastructure failures and, in some cases, isolation. What already was the largest exodus in the island’s history now includes people fleeing in droves simply to achieve some sense of normalcy.