Following the passing of Hurricane Maria on September 20, Puerto Rican news sources have been reporting on widespread damage to buildings, infrastructure and supply chains. Puerto Rico is a regional hub for life sciences and healthcare companies, with 12 of the 20 top medical device and pharmaceutical companies having manufacturing plants on the island. These were likely to suffer from airport and port closures as well as from power or communication outages even if plants were not damaged directly. Earlier his week, the storm has already led one Ireland-based medical device company to close its manufacturing plant in the region, although the company reportedly stocked inventories and obtained generators ahead of the storm.
Impacts on power and communication infrastructure
On September 22, Puerto Rican media sources reported that the island’s approximately 3.5 million residents were still without power. Due to a weak energy grid, some parts could potentially remain without power for months. Restoration efforts of telecommunication services were also suspended due to the passage of Hurricane Maria, and that storm has reportedly downed multiple cellular phone towers across the island. Around 50 percent of Puerto Rico’s 1,600 mobile phone towers were previously knocked out of commission following the passage of Hurricane Irma. There is no estimate for the number of towers out of service currently. There is no initial estimate of when service will be fully restored, but the availability of mobile phone service was said to largely depend on power restoration. Significant flooding and damage has also been detected, including to Luis Munoz Marin International Airport, which was only expected to re-open on September 22. While there have been no confirmations of casualties at this time, the potential for such remains. The eye of the hurricane left north-west Puerto Rico, but hurricane-like conditions including strong wind gusts were expected to continue until the weekend.
Impacts on airports
San Juan’s Luis Munoz Marin International Airport (IATA: SJU) has reportedly reopened to military and relief flights on September 21 and was projected to reopen for limited commercial flights on September 22. Most of Puerto Rico-bound air freight shipments were reportedly being kept at the last in-transit airport. Earlier this year, American Airlines launched a daily, nonstop widebody service between San Juan Luis Muñoz Marín Airport (SJU) and Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) to accommodate the growing trade of pharmaceutical manufacturing between the US and Puerto Rico. Mercedita Airport (IATA: PSE) in Ponce and Rafael Hernandez Airport (IATA: BQN) in Aguadilla remained closed due to damage from Hurricane Maria. Notices to Airmen (NOTAM) from the Federal Aviation Administration remained in place for the affected airports, and were set to expire on the evening of September 22.
Impacts on seaports
On September 22, all ports of Puerto Rico remained closed by the U.S. Coast Guard following the passage of Hurricane Maria, with no indication as to when ports might be reopened. Officials report that the reopening of the territory’s ports was a top priority of relief and reconstruction efforts. Puerto Rico-bound shipments were reportedly being kept at the last in-transit airport or seaport. The Port of San Juan’s top exports by value in 2017 were medicines in individual dosages; plasma, vaccines, blood as well as medical instruments for surgeons, dentists and vets.