Tropical cyclones, otherwise known as hurricanes, can cause catastrophic damage to the livelihood of everything and everyone in their path. They may last up to a week with wind speeds up to 200 miles per hour. The Atlantic hurricane season is from July to November–usually, there are only a few big storms that occur in the Caribbean. In 2017 there were an astounding 17 named tropical storms that swept through the region. Six months after the hurricane season and Puerto Rico is still trying to recover from the damage left in the wake of the deadly September hurricanes–Irma and Maria.
Preparations for the hurricane season can still be seen around the island. There are boarded up windows in Vieques, Rincon, Utuado, and even San Juan. To brace for the storms, boats on all coasts of Puerto Rico were tied up close to the shore. Residents across the island brought in items that could cause damage by the wind. The people of Puerto Rico thought they were prepared. The two biggest hurricanes of the season that hit Puerto Rico were literally one after the other. Irma brought storm surges and caused flooding and power outages to parts of the island. Maria brought deadly winds up to 175 miles per hour causing damages to infrastructure and destroying the land. Nothing could prepare Puerto Ricans for the deadly wind speeds from Maria. Hurricane Maria was the worst natural disaster that Puerto Rico has ever had. It was the deadliest storm of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season.
Puerto Rico has changed indefinitely after the horrendous hurricane season. At almost every corner I see torn down power lines that are barely being supported by the limbs of trees. Shattered concrete buildings and iron rods dot the landscape alongside broken trees and debris on the ground. A total blackout still plagues 400,000 Puerto Ricans that don’t have power. They won’t be getting the governmental aid they desperately need in the near future. A bill in the Senate has been stalled for ages but would provide US$81B in disaster-relief in response to the 2017 hurricane season to Puerto Rico, Texas, and Florida. Other than the physical alterations of the island, there’s a new morale among locals. Everyone is positive and ready to rebuild stronger, and smarter. It seems like the hurricane season, even with the massive destruction, has implored the citizens of Puerto Rico to have more resilience, motivation, and determination to heal.
Puerto Ricans are incredibly hurt by the lack of response and attention from the mainland U.S. and our government. On the streets, I frequently come across signs that read “FEMA is the problem.” When I ask about Trump some Puerto Ricans get fiercely angry or their eyes swell up with tears. “How can the U.S. government, our government, care so little about the three million American citizens here? How can he say it’s our fault that this happened to us and that we cannot depend on the U.S. for everything?” These are the sentiments that were shared with me by a young farmer near San Sebastian while I was volunteering there with an aid response team. During my time volunteering, I learned that FEMA, The Red Cross, and other non-profit organizations aren’t well organized and don’t notify the community about the arrival of aid supplies and workers until the night before. While I was volunteering in the mountain towns located in the municipality of San Sebastian I met many residents that still need repairs on their houses and who currently depend on generators for power. I was speaking to one woman and she told me that her community has only seen the Red Cross twice since the hurricane hit.
Many of my fellow Puerto Ricans are fed up with how the federal and local government are dealing with the millions of people without power, water, and adequate food. Many are taking the situation and solution into their own hands to help neighbors. If one person has a generator then the whole neighborhood comes over and charges up their power tools. Another has water filters so lines of people show up in front of the house filling up their jugs of water. Members of this community are helping each other out and taking smart measures to ensure that this kind of ruin doesn’t happen again.
International media continues to fail Puerto Ricans by refusing to expose the ongoing tragedy of the aftermath of the hurricane season. Initially, news outlets covered the damage with videos and photos of landslides, flooded houses with homeowners on the roofs, and lost pets deep in mud. Even the local news stations in Puerto Rico broadcast whatever nonsense Trump has tweeted and celebrate who’s taking home gold at the Olympics. Social media is the tool that many locals use to alert others if there is a power outage, determine which neighborhoods need more generators, and connect with family on the other side of the island. Twitter is a more realistic look at the current state of things in Puerto Rico than traditional news outlets.
Despite all this Puerto Rico is open for tourism and in need of the revenue generated by travelers. Tourism is a massive contributor to the local economy. The high season is starting off very slow due to the fact many travelers think that Puerto Rico isn’t ready for tourism. Puerto Rico needs tourism right now. Restaurants, hotels, bars, and activities are open for business and rely on tourism dollars to continue to operate. Adventure seekers can head to the rainforest to explore a gorgeous hiking trail and picturesque beaches are beckoning travelers from the cold up north. Travelers to Puerto Rico need to be empathetic. They may need to be patient at times when the power goes out for an hour or less–everything will run normally shortly after. Stop lights still aren’t working in many parts of the island so if those who rent cars should be extra cautious and calm on the road. Luis Fonsi released a promotional video to encourage visitors to the island, Despacito in Puerto Rico.
To directly help the American people of the Island of Enchantment please consider making donations to my favorite local charities: ConPRmetidos, Fondos Unidos de Puerto Rico, and The Ricky Martin Foundation. Funds will help provide generators, housing tools, and other necessary supplies to areas hardest hit by the hurricanes that swept through Puerto Rico. Don’t let the lack of media coverage fool you that life is back to normal across the island of Puerto Rico. We need your help to rebuild our beautiful island, especially outside of San Juan.
Lorial Roballo is a Puerto Rican traveler with a strong desire to discover new adventures, try great ethnic food, and encourage others to break out of their comfort zone in order to see something new. She is currently the Social Media Manager at Mango Mansion. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.
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