In DepthAstronomy

Hurricane damage threatens Arecibo's future

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Science  29 Sep 2017:
Vol. 357, Issue 6358, pp. 1336-1337
DOI: 10.1126/science.357.6358.1336

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  • Modeling the ongoing impact of Hurricane Maria using human mobility data
    • Moritz UG Kraemer, Research Fellow, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA and Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA
    • Other Contributors:
      • Michiel A Bakker, Graduate Student, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
      • Adam Sadilek, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • Yulin Hswen, Graduate Student, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA
      • Alex Pentland, Professor, MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA, USA
      • Onur Kucuktunc, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • Bryant Gipson, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • Allison Lieber, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • Prem Ramaswami, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • Evgeniy Gabrilovich, Google Inc. Mountain View, CA, USA
      • John S Brownstein, Professor, Harvard Medical School, Cambridge, MA, USA and Boston Children's Hospital, Boston, MA, USA

    Hurricane Maria has recently caused extensive damages in the Caribbean including Puerto Rico’s Arecibo Observatory. While we have now gained an understanding of the physical damages, the impact on human behavior has not been described quantitatively. For example, even though evacuation orders were issued, the extent and destinations of population migration are still unclear. With the aim to support relief efforts and help direct the delivery of aid, we use near-real time aggregate mobility data from Google location services to quantify the impact of the disaster on people in Puerto Rico.

    We show that movement out of Puerto Rico increased by 20% the day before the landfall of Hurricane Maria on September 20, 2017. Immediately after the landfall, travel in and out of Puerto Rico virtually stopped, and only slow recovery has been recorded until October 11 (last day of analysis) with more people leaving Puerto Rico than coming in. Major destinations for outbound travelers were Orlando, Miami, New York City, and Atlanta. Overall smartphone connectivity (footnote) dropped by 80-95%, compared to the baseline, indicating major disruptions in the territory. Human mobility dropped the day of the impact by 20% and has since not recovered to the baseline (50% of regular activity). These findings are in line with qualitative reports of school and business closures and infrastructure devastation.

    Notably, right before the landfall, residents were 30% more likely to travel...

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    Competing Interests: None declared.