Financially troubled Puerto Rico's shrinking population has long been a cause for concern, but now the catastrophic damage and slow recovery from Hurricane Maria could force even more people to flee, making its economic outlook and recovery that much more shaky.
A week after the category 4 storm, the recovery has been painfully slow and the devastation is worse than expected. The prospect of months without electricity across the island, the lack of potable water and thousands of homeless people make some amount of migration to the mainland from the U. S. territory all but guaranteed.
Politicians in New York and Florida, two states likely to draw many Puerto Rican residents because of community and family ties, have been among the first to respond with aid and other support.
The Miami-Dade school district, for instance, has said it is prepared to take in students from Puerto Rico and expects to see an influx once flights return to normal from the island.
"We have already over 2,000 Puerto Rican-born children, who are students in our school system. The family connections between Miami Dade and the island are very strong," said Alberto Carvalho, Superintendent of Schools for Miami Dade. "We are obviously expecting to receive a significant number, in the hundreds, to at least a couple thousand."
Carvalho said a dozen students arrived from Puerto Rico even before commercial flights resumed. He expects more to trickle in, with the first most likely to be individuals with financial wherewithal, coming as families or sending their children to stay with relatives.
The next wave he expects will be those that are less financially well off, and they could come in greater numbers as has happened in other crises where Florida was a destination for residents from Caribbean or Latin America nations. The fact that Puerto Ricans are Americans enables those leaving the island to easily enter and stay on the mainland.