Five years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, the island is dealing with the damage of yet another destructive storm. 

Hurricane Fiona struck the U.S. territory Monday, killing four, triggering mudslides and crushing bridges while displacing more than a thousand and leaving more than a million residents without power.

Some wonder whether the storm will prompt the kind of exodus seen after Hurricane Maria. In the wake of that hurricane, more than 123,000 Puerto Ricans permanently relocated to U.S. states, especially New York and Florida, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

And according to a new USA Today analysis of 2020 Census results, every single municipio—Puerto Rico’s equivalent of a county—lost population after Maria compared to the 2010 Census.

Why do Puerto Ricans leave the island?

The island’s numbers actually have been in decline ever since the U.S. territory reached its peak population in 2004, according to a Pew Research Center study, falling to about 3.2 million by 2018. Economic conditions there – notably a mid-2000s recession whose effects still linger – have been driving people off the island long before Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck in September 2017.

Some have left more recently, frustrated by what they see as the local government’s ongoing failure to deal with the aftermath.

Marla Perez-Lugo, born in Santurce and raised in Mayaguez, left Puerto Rico last year. Once co-director of Puerto Rico’s National Institute for Energy and Island Sustainability, she now works as a sociology professor at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley.

“What pushed me out was the impotence of not being able to contribute to my island recovery and reconstruction,” she said.

Previously reported Census data showed nearly 440,000 fewer residents in Puerto Rico over the past decade, a loss of about 12% of the population. Over that period, a majority of the island’s municipios saw losses of greater than 10%, and nearly all lost more than 1,000 residents.

Will Puerto Ricans leave the island again?

Elizabeth Aranda, a professor of sociology at the University of South Florida, said she guessed the storm will be a catalyst for anyone already thinking about leaving Puerto Rico.

“It depends how quickly power and water can be restored, and how quickly children can get back to school and people to work,” she said.

Those who rely more on electricity – such as those with chronic health conditions or disabilities – may find it harder to subsist without power, she said, and will be more apt to leave.

Thousands of Puerto Rican evacuees lined up for a cruise ship in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in San Juan, Puerto Rico, in September 2017. The aftermath of the powerful storm resulted in a near-total shutdown of the U.S. territory's economy and had many worried about their financial survival on the storm-ravaged island.

Fernando Rivera, a sociology professor at the University of Central Florida, agreed.

“As days without electricity and water are prolonged along with rising temperatures and the potential of other rain events, there is a high likelihood that those with family and friends in New York or Florida will come stateside to seek some relief, particularly those dealing with health issues,” he said.

Alexandra Lúgaro, 41, executive director of the Foundation for Puerto Rico’s Center for Strategic Innovation and a former gubernatorial candidate, said some might leave for specific reasons, such as those taking elderly relatives to the mainland for hospital care.