Puerto Rico: Canary in the Coal Mine of Collapse

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Published on The Doomstead Diner October 1, 2017

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Maria is another one of those Collapse Gifts that keeps on giving.  Although the impact of the storm itself was quite horrific, the aftermath has been far worse.  Puerto Rico has now become the Poster Child for what FAST COLLAPSE looks like.  For those of us who observe and chronicle collapse as it progresses around the world, Puerto Rico is the Canary in the Coal Mine.  It's a window into what life will look like for many as our energy supplies dwindle.

Although it took a Hurricane like Maria to wipe out the infrastructure of Puerto Rico in one fell swoop, the island was already well on its way toward this before Maria came a-calling.  They are officially bankrupt, the power company also bankrupt, the infrastructure aging and in disrepair, and on top of all of that over the last decade there has been mass migration out of Puerto Rico by anyone young with skills who could get out.  So not only does the power company have a money shortage, they have a manpower shortage too.  They don't just have to re-string wires in this one, first they gotta GET to the wires rebuilding and clearing roads, then they gotta put in a whole lot of new poles, which have to be shipped in because they don't have any trees left there to make them out of.  Quotes of a "few months" to get a full grid operational there again are laughable.  They might get San Juan lit up again in that time period, but not the whole island.

The instantaneous removal of all grid power in Puerto Rico demonstrates clearly how dependent all industrialized countries are on a functioning electrical grid.  Particularly true in hot climates, where without A/C now many buildings are simply uninhabitable.  Office buildings are often build without windows that open, turning them  into ovens when the A/C goes out.  Similarly, many modern McMansions are not built with the kind of shaded porches, ceiling fans and ventilation that older southern climate homes were built with.  No A/C in these dwelling, and you will sweat to death in no time.  It's no help on that front either that there is little Potable Water circulating anywhere to keep yourself well hydrated.

http://media.nj.com/ledgerupdates_impact/photo/2012/10/refrigerator-power-outage-hurricane-sandy-spoiledjpg-c33741974447a50d.jpgFollowing after the A/C on the high power consumption items we all rely on is the Food Refrigeration issue.  By now, all the food stored in everyone's home refrigerator and freezer has gone bad if it wasn't eaten already.  Some larger stores and warehouses might have generator backup, but most of the Bodegas the typical Puerto Rican buys food at do not.  Even if they do have generators, gas is running scarce and driving to get it or have it delivered is blocked by debris and still flooded roads in some places.  For all intents and purposes, any perishable foods on the island are no longer consumable.

Is a massive relief effort underway to get new food to the people of Puerto Rico?  If you call 7 air cargo C-130 transports and a couple of Navy ships a massive relief effort and give this "high marks" in the words of Donalditry Tumpovetsky, you are a few cans short of a six-pack.  Again, this might bring enough food in to keep the folks in and around San Juan from starving, but it's not enough capacity to feed an island with 3.4M Human Souls living on it.

In fact what needs to be done here is a FULL MOBILIZATION of the FSoA Coast Guard, and FSoA flagged Container Ships need to be commandeered to bring in massive food aid and building materials to various ports all around the island.  It's also just nonsense that they haven't been able to reach remote villages because of impassable roads.  They have HELICOPTERS!  They might not have enough choppers to get aid out to all these remote places, but they can certainly go there, survey damage, talk to the Mayor and give him a Sat Phone, etc.

Besides the nonsense on not knowing the status of these places is the nonsense in terms of the Death Count.  Do you really believe on an island with 3.4M people, most of whom live in poverty in ramshackle "non-traditional" housing, only 12 people died?  With raging floods all over the island and wind speeds topping 145 MPH?  Debris flying everywhere and power lines down all over the place?  Besides that, quite obviously with no power in many hospitals and nursing homes and no A/C old folks and sick folks are going to be dropping like flies here, starting about now.  They have medicines that need refrigeration that go bad just like food does.  We'll never get an accurate number on how many people die as a result of this catastrophe, Da Goobermint would never admit to it.  Big Death numbers only happen to 3rd World Nations like Bangladesh, not to FSoA Citizens!

A/C and Refrigeration are proximal problems immediately hitting individuals, but there are of course many other dependencies on electricity any industrialized neighborhood has to deal with.  Anywhere there are high-rise apartments, you need elevators (Lifts for the Brits) to be transporting you up and down from the upper stories.  While it is possible if you are in good shape to walk 12 flights of stairs in the morning to go to work and when you get home at night, it's pretty darn hard to do this 2 or 3 times a day when you send the kids out to play or you need to go grocery shopping, etc.  Besides that, in most locations there simply is not enough gravity fed water pressure to push water up more than about 6 stories.  So in order to have flushing toilets and running water on the upper stories, you need pumps which are of course electric powered.

http://www.mastec.com/user_area/content_media/DaniaBeachStorageTank.jpgYou don't only need the pumps in the tall buildings though, they are all over the place through the water delivery system, both on the way in and the way out.  On the individual level in more rural locations, people use individual electric driven pumps to bring well water up from below ground, in some places where the aquifer has been depeleted from quite deep underground.  You can't jack that deep water up with a hand operated pump.  On the grander scale, towns and cities use big ass pumps to move water all through their systems on the way in, and on the way out it has to be pumped to sewage treatment plants, themselves also dependent on electricity to operate.

Somewhat less threatening in the Basic Needs department but in many respects also quite threatening to life in Industrial Culture is the failure of the Communications Infrastructure.  Pretty much all the Cell Phone Towers are down in Puerto Rico, so they are CUT OFF from communications not just within the island, but across the pond to their relatives living here in the continental FSoA.  One has to remember that more Puerto Ricans live on the continent than live on the island.  they had a Diaspora in the 1950s & 1960s that sent many impoverished Puerto Ricans to live in the Slums of NY Shity, where I lived though not in the slums.  I lived in the lower middle class neighborhood at that time.  This is known as the "Great Migration", and occured in the aftermath of the Great Depression and WWII.  A Hollywood dramatization and Musical of this period became an Academy Award Winner for Best Picture, "West Side Story".

Like the Blacks in NY Shity, the Puerto Ricans lived in Ghettos and were the Underclass, and were referred to as "Spics".  As in, "I don't Spic English".  Puerto Rico itself was mostly left to languish as a colonial protectorate, they never got Statehood like Hawaii did.  Much of that due to prejudice against the Spanish speaking population.  Hawaii was largely White, and became an important Military base during WWII in the Battle of the Pacific against the Japanese.  It remains an important military base to this day, now in the battle for hegemony over the Pacific with the Chinese.  Of course, in a full on War with the Chinese, Hawaii would be OBLITERATED by a man-made Hurrican courtesy of Chinese cruise missiles.  They wouldn't even need to use Nukes to do it, the current generation of conventional Blockbuster warheads would do the trick just fine.  Hawaii is not a big place.

https://www.metro.us/sites/default/files/styles/mystyle/public/main/articles/2017/09/26/LYNXNPED8P1BV_7.jpgBack to the current problem of Puerto Rico though, I think we have established what the SCALE of this problem is, it is truly HUGE.  So what is the response of Trumpsky to this.  He is sending ONE Hospital ship and maybe about another dozen naval vessels of various kinds.  This for an island of 3500 square miles with 3.4M FSoA Citizens living on it!  It's just Window Dressing for Photo Ops of the Coast Guard and National Guard making Heroic Rescues.  90% of them will come in and around San Juan, so the TV camera crews can get there.

Beyond the inadequacy of the rescue mission is the complete lack of a PLAN to get that infrastructure back up and running, in some fashion.  PREPA, the Puerto Rican national power company like Puerto Rico itself is DEAD BROKE, $9B in their own debt aside from the $70B in debt the Puerto Rican Goobermint has.  Even before Maria, the scuttlebutt was that PR would "Privatize" the electric grid and sell off what assets they had for pennies on the dollar.  However, let me ask you, what IDIOT would buy the electric grid of Puerto Rico and try to fix it up to make a PROFIT off of it?  The capital investment here is enormous, the entire grid has to be essentially replaced.  Then you are going to sell electricity to an impoverished population with no money to buy it?  Does this sound like a good bizness plan to you?  Not to mention anyone currently on that island with the means to get off will do so long before you finish constructing a new electric grid.  The only people who will be hanging out and sweating while you do the repairs are the poor people.

Now, while Puerto Rico is certainly in the worst shape here of those islands that are getting some media attention (Cuba and the Dominican Republic are barely mentioned in the MSM, and both took quite large hits, Cuba from Irma and the DR from Maria), it's not the only place that has had its lifestyle and economy decimated by the STRAFING RUN OF MOTHER NATURE.  The Tourista Traps of the FSoA and Brit Virgin Islands were also smacked down hard.  As a Recovery issue, these islands present a *somewhat* more tractable problem than Puerto Rico does, because they are physically smaller and the populations are much less.  However, even in these places it is hard to see how they will get their Tourista based economies running again given the level of destruction of the infrastructure.

https://media4.s-nbcnews.com/j/newscms/2017_37/2150076/170911-saint-martin-mc958_9e7e073e7d23fa3c0544ac64e2bb4271.nbcnews-ux-2880-1000.jpgFirst off, they need to dispose of all the TRASH left behind by Maria and Irma, and that is easier said than done on tiny islands that don''t have a lot of space for Landfill. There's a lotta fiberglass that needs to go to the Great Beyond.   In this case, they have full island's worth of garbage to dispose of.  Somehow, if they are to recover, it will have to be shipped off island to…somewhere in the Land of Away where all the flotsam and jetsam of Industrial Civilization eventually ends up.  But who will pay for the shipping and who will take all the garbage?

Then they also have to source the people and the equipment to do the cleanup.  You can be sure the rich fucks with retirement homes and mansions on these islands won't be doing the cleanup themselves of course.  They will pay for locals to fix up their own properties, which provides an interim substitute for the Tourista Economy they mostly lived on during the Good Old Days before the STRAFING RUN.  However, this isn't a job that can be done with a few chainsaws and some human labor.  You're going to need heavy equipment, lots of it.  Caterpillar Front End Loaders, Daiwoo Back Hoes, Hitachi Dump Trucks, the WORKS!  You need operators for those things who are trained, not your average local who was a bartender before Maria arrived.  Who pays to import all the equipment and trained personnel?

Before any Tourista bizness can get rolling, the airport needs to be fixed up and the ports and marinas repaired.  No self respecting Amerikan Tourista is going to fly into an airport with no Air Conditioning!  The Cruise Ships need ports they can dock at, and the Yachties need Marinas they can moor at.  Only once all these things are in place can you BEGIN to hope to reopen restaraunts and bars, but of course you have to rebuild those too, and who pays for that?  Owner Operators of most of the smaller places didn't make a whole lot of money in the good times.  You expect many of them have spare cash around now to rebuild?  Not likely, so they will have to take out loans from…somebody.  It is like the Puerto Rican Electric Grid though, what IDIOT would loan money into this disaster?  It's never going to get paid back.  Without the loans though, this economy can't get restarted.  There's just no money circulating at the moment.

https://s3-media4.fl.yelpcdn.com/bphoto/AX0mtdafv_lJQKX69Yr6vg/348s.jpgMany of the photos from Ground Zero of the few biznesses now open show signs for "CASH ONLY".  This because since communications are down they can't process any credit or debit card transactions.  The thing is, few people use cash anymore, so there isn't enough of it circulating around the economy to do all cash transactions.  Not that there is a whole lot left to buy at this point.  One thing I definitely did not see were signs saying "Gold or Silver" only.  not a good sign for the Gold Bugs.

Besides the credit cards being down, so is the airline reservations system, so they are having to do all their booking (and rebooking, and re-rebooking…) by hand with pen and paper.  They're also down to about 1/10th their normal flight schedule, so there are people there who have been sleeping in the airport for a week now.  With NO air conditioning!

As bad as the situation is in Puerto Rico, this is still better than it will be after SHTF day moves into the core countries, because at least PR can look to the FSoA for SOME help, even if Donalditry isn't doing a very good job with it.  When the FSoA goes into crash mode, there's no Big Brother or Cavalry to come running to the rescue.  What could cause a collapse on such a massive scale across the whole continent?

Far as weather, probably nothing could do the whole continent at once.  However, more storms more often could provide the "Death by a Thousand Cuts".  They don't have to all be Cat 5 hurricanes either.  More tornadoes, more snowstorms and ice stormms in the winter.  They all perpetually damage infrastructure that has to be rebuilt if the neighborhood is going to continue living the Industrial lifestyle.  More and more meighborhoods wil drop off this map, and the lifestyle will inexorably shrink down.  How long this will take is anybody's guess since it depends on so many factors, not the least of which is the weather which is pretty unpredictable.  Simultaneously you have the economic  consequences of each one, and the political ones as demonstrated with Puerto Rico.  Notice nobody is talking about the Fedral Budget these days or how any of this rebuilding work is going to get paid for?  The numbers they are pitching out are laughers too, $40B won't even TOUCH a rebuild of Puerto Rico, not to mention St. Croix, St. Thomas and St. John.

In terms of an instantaneous, Global Wide SHTF day, there are really only a few possibilities for that, I can only think of 4 that might pull it off all at once.  On the Geological level, a Supervolcano blowing off and covering the globe in ashfall would do it pretty well.  A collision witha Planet Killer Asteroid would bring the End of Times down to less than a day, you wouldn't have to worry about living in a post-collapse world in that scenario.  On the man-made level, Global Thermonuclear war could destroy industrial civilization globally inside a few days.  The only other one that could bring about a full Global Collapse on such a short timeline would be a complete collase of the Monetary System with all trade coming to a halt, including Oil and Food.  That would still probably take a few months to play out, and I am sure Emergency Measures would be put in place.  However, much like the emergency measures for Puerto Rico, they won't be able to meet the needs of Billions of people all at the same time.

https://straction.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/stephensonsrocket.jpgHowever, this doesn't need to be Global in scope and all-at-once to qualify as "Fast Collapse".  It's ALREADY fast collapse measured against how long it took to climb up the Industrial Ladder, which you can peg as starting in around 1750 or so with the invention of the Steam Engine.  It's kind of arbitrary when you peg Collapse as beginning here, there were signs of it as early as the 1960's & 70s, but it really hit an acceleration phase in 2008 with the Financial Crisis, so I will use that as the "Start Date" for Collapse.  So it took from 1750 to 2008 to climb UP the ladder for 258 years, and to slide DOWN to where we are now, only about 9 years so far.  In that 9 years, NUMEROUS countries have gone off the cliff one way or the other, including but not limited to Greece, Venezuela, Ukraine, Syria and Myanmar.  Halfway off the cliff are places like Brazil, Argentina & Mexico.  Now they are joined by Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands and probably the Dominican Republic & Cuba too, but not much Newz is coming out from those places.

Here in the FSoA, both Florida and Houston got hit hard but it is being spun as though they are both back up to BAU here already in a month, which simply can't be true.  Definitely not true in the Florida Keys and I suspect not much of Western Florida either where Irma made landfall again after the Keys.  There is no follow-up on how many of the Oil rigs and Refineries are back up and running down in that neighborhood either.  ALL of these places lost a HUGE portion of their rolling stock of Carz, estimates in Houston are that 500,000 Carz were TOTALLED.  You HAVE to have a Car to get around anywhere in TX, Public Transportation simply doesn't EXIST for the most part.  It's not like most of these folks can just go to the bank and yank out even just a downpayment on a car, most of the population has less than amonth in savings, they live paycheck-to-paycheck.  So BAU is highly unlikely to be operating as usual in Houston as of right now.  Collapse has arrived there for many.

For Collapse-Deniers, no disaster in any given location will convince them that Collapse is in progress as we speak.  They will always come back with the retort "there have always been Hurricanes, there have always been Tornadoes, there have always been Snowstorms, there have always been Wildfires", and so forth.  That's all true, but the issue is how hard and how often they are hitting along with the steadily decreasing ability to rebuild after they move through the neighborhood.  It's almost impossible to quantify this in any real fashion, but it's pretty obvious to me at least that we are reaching the point where things are breaking down faster than they are getting fixed up.

http://www.weatherwizkids.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/wildfire12.jpgIt's not likely to get much better as we move forward through Collapse, and where you are located makes a BIG difference as to whether your neighborhood gets impacted sooner or later in this ongoing calamity.  Living on the coast of the Gulf of Mexico is NOT a particularly good choice of locations.  Neither is living in the numerous Flood Zones sprinkled around the continent near rivers and tributaries.  Forested areas in the Mountains might not be a good choice if they are suffering Drought and Wildfires may be imminent.  Earthquake prone regions might not be such a good choice either these days either.  Certainly the Mexicans aren't to happy with their location at the moment.

Which of course means the "Safe" areas to ride out collapse are pretty few and far between, in fact such a place may not exist at all, as in truly 100% Safe.  So if you do have the ability and means to make a move, you have to weigh the risks in any given neighborhood.  Based on what occured with Harvey, Irma & Maria, Island paradises and lviing on a small Yacht as a Sea Gypsy don't seem like great choices on the risk scale.  Large cities don't seem too good either.

Personally, I think the best methodology is to stick with a good Bugout Plan, and Options of places to go when TSHTF.  As demonstrated in Puerto Rico, there ARE no good Bugout Plans for most people, only a few who have boats and GTFO of Dodge before the Behemoth arrives.  You don't want to be stuck on a baking island in an airport oven sweating your nuts off for a week waiting for a flight out.  Assuming you have the MONEY to buy one.

By NO MEANS is the Puerto Rico story over.  Little Newz has come out from outside of San Juan.  With the heat there, there is no way more people have not succumbed to heat stress as the days pass.  Of course, finding the stories in the MSM will likely be difficult.  That is why we run the Doomstead Diner.  Look for contiuing coverage here as it drifts off the pages of the MSM and the people of Puerto Rico are left to Twist in the Wind.

5 Responses to Puerto Rico: Canary in the Coal Mine of Collapse

  • Hugh Culliton says:

    Excellent summary of the problem. Most folks talking about PR don't seem to  understand the magnitude of this disaster. PR basically experienced a huclear strike minus the EM and gamma effects.  I wonder which lower-48 state's going next? At this rate, I doubt that the US will still be a single political entity in 10 years.

  • JJGrey says:

    For most people bugging out means becoming a refugee. Prior planning and sufficent liquid portable assets can minimize this to some extent, but I would recomend instead a fair judgement of the potential regional risks that might make one want to bug out and try to find a way to adapt and overcome those risks in place wherever possible, and yes be ready to bug out for those events that you cant be sufficently prepared for – and bug out NOW via strategic relocation rather than with a swarm of refugees. 

    • RE says:

      ” I would recomend instead a fair judgement of the potential regional risks that might make one want to bug out “

      As I mentioned in the article, it’s pretty difficult to make a “fair judgement of regional risks”, you have them everywhere.  Hurricanes, Tornados, Earthquakes, Volcanic Eruption, Drought, Flooding, Wildfires…there is at least one of these events that can hit any neighborhood.  Then you have the social and political problems that can crop up in any neighborhood. Including WAR of course. So no matter how good your “Shelter in Place” plan is, sometimes you just have to GTFO of Dodge, and best be prepared to do so and not get caught with your pants down.


  • tagio says:

    What a complete disaster.   It shows how completely ill prepared people are for even a minor disruption.  Why for example does not everyone have water filters for events like this, so at least they could have filtered potable water?  Why doesn't everyone have a couple months of rice, beans and grains stored with a propoane gas camp stove, rocket stove or solar stove?  Obviously hospitals need more generators and more diesel stored on site, in weather hardened, flood-resistant sites.  These minimal precautions would have at least have eased some of the hardship, allowing some time for help to start helping. 

    No doubt a genius like Korowicz (author of supply-chain contagion) will have much to learn from this, while almost everyone else chalks it off as a one-off event.  It will be really intersting to see how many people leave PR permanently because of this.  I suspect the number will be quite large. 

    All that PR needed to make it the perfect microcosm of a fast collapse is a single nuke facility on the island.  We would then have witnessed the struggles to keep it from going Fukushima because the grid was down and diesel to keep the coolant flowing over the waste rods couldn't be delivered via road.  The military would have had to helicopter fuel in to that place  – likely for months – to save it.  It would be good if the guys that run our nation's nuclear facilities drew some important lessons from this but I suspect they are too busy maximizing bonuses and shareholder value to care.   

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

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Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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