A FIRST-HAND ACCOUNT OF HURRICANE MARIA'S IMPACT ON PUERTO RICO

The following is a first-hand account by Toikka Law Group partner Roger Morrison of being in the path of Hurricane Maria when it ravaged Puerto Rico as a category 4 hurricane.


Maria’s Impact and Aftermath

 

The afternoon of September 18 was like the majority of all the others: lush palm trees swaying in the warm breeze, the sun on ones back and everyone outside biking, rollerblading, swimming and walking their dogs.


As we drove through our security gates to penthouse 153 in the Malaga building, our friend Michelle was yelling from her golf cart, frantically, as we rolled down the window. “We have been asked to evacuate!” We looked at each other. We had nowhere to go.

 

Then we lost connection with the outside world.  No Internet, no cell phone, no TV -- for the next 8 days.


That evening, the wind picked up speed, the entire apartment began to fill up with water from window leaks.  Our computer speakers sparked and then began to flame, storm shutters were haphazardly closed, the apartment was dark, the only thing left to do was to listen.

 
We did our best to determine what each noise was: a clank, objects pinging our balcony windows looking over the Caribbean.  A number of things crashing. Two
very heavy thumps.


The wind engulfed us, swirling around our building like an angry lion at 160 mph. The horrific wind continued for hours upon hours.

 

The next eight days were spent bailing water from the flooded apartment, drinking from two designated tubs filled with clean water, eating the remainder of the canned food.  With no electricity or water, we were unable to bathe.


Through a maintenance employee, we were able to hear that the only water available from a spigot was in the trash room.    There, after four days without running water, we were able to sponge off.  Almost two weeks after the storm, most of the island’s residents still lacked access to electricity and clean water.  


Because the elevator was out, we had to walk down and back up five flights of stairs any time we left the apartment.  After days of communicating with the few friends left in the development, we were able to get a ride into San Juan where we picked up phone reception. 

 

We were able to make contact with our frantic family, who told us of a private plane contracted to pick up us and 100 other panicked residents of Puerto Rico, and fly us to Miami.  We then connected with our daughter and her husband in Birmingham, Alabama, where we are making preparations to return to the island.

 

Tax Consequences for Puerto Rican Residents

 

An important consolation was that the IRS did not require us to return in 2017 to preserve our PR tax benefits.  We were credited with deemed presence for the rest of 2017. 

 

 IRS issued Notice 2017-56 to provide relief in the context of the physical presence test to qualify as a bona fide Puerto Rico resident. The 14-day period for absence from the island during a natural disaster was extended to 117 days, effective beginning September 6, 2017, and ending December 31, 2017. Further, for this same purpose, an individual who is outside of Puerto Rico on any day during this 117-day period will be treated as leaving or being unable to return to the Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria on such day.

 

 In addition, the IRS recently issued Notice 2018-19 to extend to 268 days the 14 day period mentioned above.  This means that an individual who is outside of Puerto Rico on any day during this 268-day period (beginning September 6, 2017 and ending on May 31, 2018) will be treated as leaving or being unable to return to the Puerto Rico as a result of Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria on such day, and a result will be counted as day of physical presence in PR.[1]

 

 

 © Copyright 2018 Roger A. Morrison.  All rights reserved.

 

[1] The rules mentioned above only deal with the physical presence test.  If you plan to be outside of PR during the first there (3) months of the year 2018, please note you should also take into consideration that you comply with the tax home test and the closer connection test.  See Internal Revenue Code, § 937(a).