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With Little Cash, How Will Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands Rebuild?

They both had bleak financial outlooks even before the hurricanes hit.

by Liz Farmer 

In downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, some buildings have generator-driven lights, as there is no public electricity working anywhere on the island. (TNS/Carolyn Cole)

For financially beleaguered Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, the physical devastation wrought by recent hurricanes has thrown into question the territories' economic futures. How is Puerto Rico's bankruptcy affected, for example, or the Virgin Islands' own debt troubles?

It's still too early to tell. But the one thing that is certain is that because of the territories' already tight finances, the pace of the recovery will be slow.

Since both U.S. territories had such a low financial capacity to deal with a major disaster in the first place, it will take them much longer to rebuild than Houston and the Florida Keys, which were also hit by major hurricanes this year. "It's going to easily be a decade," says Deserai Crow, a disaster recovery expert at the University of Colorado Denver.

That's in part due to the level of devastation brought by the hurricanes. Puerto Rico's entire electric grid was severely damaged following Hurricane Maria in September, leaving the whole island without power and, in most cases, a working water and sewer system. Federal officials say it could take months before power is restored there.

Maria also ravaged St. Croix, the largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, while St. John and St. Thomas were pummeled by Hurricane Irma just 14 days earlier. All three islands are facing widespread power outages as well. Although, running water is expected to return this weekend.

Tim Holler