The Real Disaster of Hurricane Fiona
This runs deeper than the water inland.
The brink of dawn. The storm has passed.
It is always the next day of a hurricane that the real pain begins.
The day after is when everyone assesses the damage. It is the day when you start counting bodies. You start noticing how much of your life has been washed/flown away, and you realize just how much it will take to get things “back to normal”.
It also exposes the weakness of the institutions that you’re supposed to trust. How the government fails at every single level. How help can’t come when you need it, only when it’s available. How grass root organizations are the only boots on the ground and so… what does that mean for the future of the island? The blatant, unapologetic incompetence runs rampant and takes away lives and livelihoods.
But nobody wants to talk about that, because the more positive note is how these disasters put on blast the resilience of the people.
You ask a Puerto Rican, “How are you?” They will tell you that everything is fine.
They are people that choose to live hopefully, even if it never gets any better.
You ask a Puerto Rican, “How did it go?” They will tell you to not worry — that it could have gone worst.
But what does that mean? How much worse are we going to let it get?
You ask a Puerto Rican, “Do you need anything?” They will say, don’t worry about it. We will see what we need as the needs come.
How are we meant to organize for disaster? If everything is reactionary and unplanned?
You ask a Puerto Rican, “Does it hurt?” They will say, Nah, it's not a big deal.
Because they always think there is someone worst that needs the attention.
You ask a Puerto Rican, “Is it still raining?” They will say, Don’t worry, the sun will come out soon.
They believe in the power of prayer. They choose to be optimists.
You ask a Puerto Rican, “Did you lose everything?” They will say, we have health and that’s all that matters.
Because they have been beaten down by so many things they don’t control, starting over is not a big deal — at least they lived to tell the tale.
You might think, wow. That’s so admirable. They’re such amazing, resilient people. And we are, nobody can’t take that away from us. Ever.
But it’s a problem. It stems from a place of complacency. We are so used to disasters and their (preventable) ramifications that people choose to pray and put it in the hands of God instead of realizing that their pain is systemic negligence.
In the first two decades of my life, I lived in Puerto Rico, I saw firsthand how this complacency enabled the island to degenerate more and more each year. Even miles away, with my family still there, every day I call and have to see how the Puerto Rican“resiliency” gets weaponized by authorities to forego the responsibility they had during times of no crisis to empower its citizen to survive in case of predictable adversity.
We have had hurricanes since before we were colonized by the Spaniards in 1492. We know these forces of nature will inevitably rape our island and cause enormous mayhem. The difference is we have modern technology and advancements. So… where is it?
Just a few things we need to get together in times of no-crisis,
- We need flood protection planning. This can be achieved by building strategic infrastructure that can mitigate and adapt in case of the worst-case scenario. This means it needs to be over-designed and over-built, to compensate for rising sea levels and heat.
- We need to actively inspect and use the relief funds given to the government, to help houses that are poorly built be able to sustain the winds and rain that are more than known to be prone on our island.
- We need a more intelligently designed and robust electric grid system whose main function is to serve individuals not suck them financially dry with pretexts and excuses that, even if they were valid, should be actively worked to a state of betterment, and not a state of status quo and temporary mitigation.
- We need better education and more local industry, so we don’t have to depend on things/ people being sent over when the island is on no-flights lock down.
Ever since I can remember, Puerto Rican policies have been reactionary. Famous example: There’s a pothole? Just fill it up! Oh, there are 25 in this street? Fill them all up. Why don’t you re-pour the whole street? Too expensive. You do the math, and it was in fact more expensive to fill the potholes 30 times in a year than it would have been to just do a new street. That’s without quantifying the thousands of dollars spent by citizens fixing their cars.
In Puerto Rico, we work towards half-assed solutions that apply short-term. Long-term planning is almost nonexistent anymore. I understand this from the people — they are in survival mode. But the government and institutions need to be better, as part of their job description. Of course, it can be argued that it’s being run by people in survival mode. But if you assess the socio-economic status of those in power, you quickly realize this is not entirely true. Corruption is a plague. A never-ending loop. A disaster.
Fiona is a natural disaster. Unavoidable. Ruthless. Soulless. I don’t blame the people for the natural force. I blame the people for the complacency they exhibit in the guise of resiliency. But more than that, I blame those in power who take advantage of that.
They take advantage of the poor education, of the blind faith the people have in God, and the Puerto Ricans’ innate compassion and can-do attitude in the face of adversity.
I am so tired of seeing this endless cycle of incompetence and greed taking advantage of a group of people that deserve better. I have debated this with a lot of people, inside the island and in the diaspora, and it is the fault of Puerto Ricans. We have Puerto Ricans in the government. Sure, we have the Junta which is a bureaucratic nightmare that needs to be absolved, but it is our own people in higher places that didn’t do their job to prevent this calamity to be less horrifying.
Our island has so much potential — more than anybody in the world could imagine. And personally, I don’t want to tell them. I want a well-deserved renaissance from and for the most badass people in the world. Puerto Ricans — we are a different breed. Something the world has yet to see and only has had a glimpse of through the music industry.
Our biggest problem is ourselves. Because it is our government officials who have failed us. They are the reason so many people lost everything.
We are the disaster.
Afterword: I know some people might say “Andrea, this is so insensitive, this isn’t the time to be pointing fingers. We need to get together and help.”
Absolutely. I agree. Let us focus these following weeks on helping/rescuing as many people as possible, and then the world forgets. The world forgets that this natural disaster is but a small event in the massive ramifications it will have culturally, economically, and socially.
My question is — What happens next? I want to PREVENT pain in the future. I want my island to be BETTER, and for its RESILIENCE to not only come from the people, but from the powers that control infrastructure, social programs, and education.
And the change has to come from within. I want to enable that progress, and if you want to help, stay tuned. I have a lot more to say, and a lot of ideas that can only be done by those who can get past my criticism, and see that that all I am trying to do, is generate efficient permanent solutions.
Where to send help for immediate relief:
Fiona Community Response Fund:
Organizing Resilience, a project by Amalgamated Charitable Foundation Inc. — Donate via AB Charities (actblue.com)
Food & Medicine
La Fondita de Jesús: Helps the homeless be fed, clean and healthy, finds them jobs and have many more services. For more information, visit lafonditadejesus.org.
Comedores Sociales: Grassroots organization that has fed many underserved areas after Hurricane Maria.For more information, visit comedoressocialespr.org.
Taller Salud: Non profit with a 24/7 hotline for victims. For more information, visit tallersalud.com.
Casa Protegida Julia de Burgos: Provides shelter for women victims of domestic violence. It provides services for their children as well. For more information, visit casajulia.org.
Proyecto Matria: Nonprofit that gives temporary and permanent housing for victims as well as legal services and operates a hotline. For more information, visit proyectomatria.org.
Ayuda Legal: Provides legal aid for anyone, free of charge. Assistance from FEMA claims to domestic violence victims.For more information, visit ayudalegalpuertorico.org.
Brigada Solidaria del Oeste: Helps communities become self-sustained, from water purification to solar lamps, filters, and medical kits. To find more information, visit bsopr.com.
Techos Pa’ Mi Gente: Fixes and restores homes destroyed by hurricane Maria (and now Fiona). For more information, visit tpmgcorp.org.