SAN JUAN, P.R.—The hurricane is long gone, but it’s the regular storms that are now providing some of the biggest challenges to relief and recovery in Puerto Rico. On Tuesday, heavy rainfall from a tropical wave affected most municipalities, which face flash-flood watches through Wednesday night. While a brief reprieve is expected Wednesday morning, rain has been forecast for most of the next week. Storms like these are common on the tropical island, but in the post-Maria landscape here, they can be ruinous and deadly all on their own.
On Tuesday, the rainfall affected roads almost immediately. The soil remains saturated from Irma and Maria, and just minutes after the first drops fell, segments of major roads became partially flooded or unusable. Traffic slowed to a standstill in most outbound directions from San Juan, turning the drive to nearby city Caguas—normally a 20- to 30-minute proposition—into a half-day exodus. Carolina Pichardo, a pediatrician who works in Caguas and lives in San Juan, told me that her commute to work took about two-and-a-half hours each way.
Pichardo’s story is indicative of the kinds of barriers that make relief work so difficult, especially in rough weather. San Juan is something of a nerve center for much of Puerto Rico, and many people—including doctors, nurses, and social workers—who work in rural parts of the island regularly commute from their homes in the city by road. While the gasoline shortages that once caused kilometer-long queues at stations have eased near the capital, the roads themselves are bottlenecks for aid, and for rebuilding other parts of the island’s infrastructure.