On September 15, we were announced that the worst modern Hurricane was going to cross right through Puerto Rico. There was no chance of avoiding it. Evacuations were announced. Shelters were opened, and citizens anxiously awaited their fate as they expected the very dangerous Category 5 Hurricane María. Like many others, I was scared but hoped the recuperation of basic utilities like power, water, and communications was going to be fast and normal. I was very wrong.
I immediately remembered another event that left devastation, confusion, and distrust of the local and federal authorities. I recall it as the worst-modern day hurricane, that received heavy media attention, criticism of a Republican President and hit a vulnerable location surrounded by water: Hurricane Katrina. It’s very difficult for American citizens to forget about Katrina, not only was it just 12 years ago, but it set up an unprecedented perspective of FEMA and their response to marginalized communities, and it also was the costliest hurricane in the history of United States of America. The similarities of the two are undeniable.
Revising all of this made me understand that Hurricane María is our Katrina. We are mirrored in the history the events occurred on August 25, 2005, in New Orleans.
Hurricane Katrina was a Category 3 storm when it hit the Gulf Coast on Aug. 29, 2005. The hurricane caused damages in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama and displaced thousands of residents due to massive floodwaters.
Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico as Category 4 storm on September 20, 2017, and left the island entirely without power. Though evacuations from certain areas were announced, many residents could not flee as airlines canceled their flights three days prior.
Hurricane Katrina was haunted by lack of provisions for people with disabilities. The race was a factor in the delayed response and the lack of preparation for the disaster. Though it is difficult to prepare for a phenomenon like this, many questioned if there could have been done more to prevent the agonizing aftermath.
The main shared factor is that in both events: citizens faced a delayed response from their officials as well as the agonizing wait to recover the damages. Hurricane Katrina took New Orleans about ten years to recover from the devastation. In the case of Puerto Rico, while still in recovery, officials have said it could take months for the power to be restored, thus making it the longest blackout in US History.
For both events, due to the loss of most means of communication, such as land-based and cellular telephone systems, in many cases, field reporters became conduits for information between victims and authorities. The destruction of the Hurricanes became national and international news.
There was also a lot of criticism directed towards the local and federal government, including the president:
Maria could cost Puerto Rico a staggering $45 billion to $95 billion, according to CNN Money. Katrina cost more than $100 billion in damages, being the costliest hurricane in US History. In the case of Puerto Rico, María is detrimental to the economy, which was already in huge deficit before the catastrophe.
The uncertainty of the official number of deaths:
There is a difference between deaths during the hurricane (e.g. people who died in floods) and deaths as a result of the aftermath of a Hurricane. Although 1,833 is an often-cited mortality figure for Hurricane Katrina, (in which more than a half 1,440 comes from the state of Louisiana) it is older than figures in the report and FiveThirtyEight also reported that none of the agencies they spoke to claimed it as an accurate estimate of the final death toll. In the case of Puerto Rico, Government officials claimed only 51 people had died as a direct result of the hurricane. They later raised this number to 900 with various sources, such as this BuzzFeed investigation, stating that there will never be official and accurate numbers since many people buried the dead in their backyard and even resorted to burning them.
One thing is for sure: the aftermath of the hurricane killed more people than the atmospheric event itself.
The reason for dedicating this article to Hurricane Maria, two months after the facts, is because we are still in a slow process of recovering from this disaster. To this day more than 55% of Puerto Rico does not have electricity, according to Status.pr. Residents lost their job, their houses, their transportation and some their family members. Because of our infrastructure, and the crippling economy, Puerto Rico’s path to recovery is a very hard one.
We are citizens just like the victims of H. Katrina, H. Sandy, and H.Irma. We are citizens that pay taxes and go to war. In fact, Puerto Ricans have participated proudly in every military engagement since World War I. Distinguishing themselves by having five medals of honor recipients from the Vietnam War, and the 65th Infantry Regiment was honored and recognized in 2014 with a Congressional Gold Medal. This is a reminder that Puerto Ricans are American citizens in the Caribbean trying to stay alive.
Our crisis is not about politics, finding out who to blame, or finger-pointing. It’s about tens of thousands of desperate people searching for food, water, fuel, medicine, and other essentials. It’s about how people are being left forgotten with little to no regard for the current human suffering. New York Times put it best: “Puerto Rico is American. We can’t ignore them”. Do not let the topic nor the people of Puerto Rico be silenced.
There is still a lot of work to be done on the island. Find out how to help here.