Hurricane Sandy was classified as a Category 3 hurricane and categorized as the deadliest hurricane of the 2012 Atlantic Hurricane season. Hurricane Maria was classified as a Category 5 hurricane and also regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect Dominica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. FEMA also known as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, responds to these types of natural disasters and provides aid for those in need. I’m going to compare some similarities and differences between the two hurricanes and how FEMA responded to each.
I decided to interview one of my good friends Robin Christopher Santos. He used to live in the Far Rockaways up until Hurricane Sandy wrecked his home. Robin was just in the 8th grade at the time. He didn’t really understand the magnitude of a hurricane, to him it was just another rainstorm. It wasn’t until the storm hit, that Robin and his family would face the effects of Sandy. Interviewing Robin gave me an inside look from someone who was affected by a hurricane. This allowed me to compare and contrast Hurricane Sandy with 2017’s Hurricane Maria.
Something I noticed about the two hurricanes were the effects they had on the people who lived in the vicinity of the hurricane. In both cases, lives were lost, property was damaged, and power outages took place. In 2012, Robin and his family were living in an apartment, paying rent monthly. When Hurricane Sandy hit, their entire floor as well as many of their belongings were destroyed. “It was like something out of a movie… I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. Everything my family had was gone within the hour”, Robin said. Victims of hurricane Maria had also suffered the same anguish. Their houses were destroyed, their loved ones lost, and their basic essentials to survive were scarce. Marta Rivera, a literal survivor of hurricane Maria, says “My home is at the bottom of a hill here in Arecibo. When the hurricane came there was a big wave and we had to be rescued from the home; it was destroyed”. Both were victims of each hurricane.
With similarities come differences. Though Sandy and Maria were both hurricanes, they each impacted their victims in different ways and with different levels of severity. Not only was that different, but the way FEMA and other aid/relief services responded to both events was different as well. Robin tells me about how he got his electricity back fairly quick, and how his landlord received aid checks from FEMA and was able to start fixing the damages. This greatly differs from how FEMA reacted to hurricane Maria. People in Puerto Rico didn’t have electricity for months and some for almost two years. According to an article by the New York Times, it was said that FEMA was sorely unprepared for Puerto Rico’s hurricane Maria. The writer Frances Robles, said “And when the killer storm did come, FEMA’s warehouse in Puerto Rico was nearly empty, its contents rushed to aid the United States Virgin Islands, which were hammered by another storm two weeks before. There was not a single tarpaulin or cot left in stock.” This just shows us how lagged the aid victims of Puerto Rico received was. People were without electricity, fresh food and water, improper shelter, the basic necessities of life and FEMA was lacking the necessary resources to help these people. FEMA exists for these types of situations and though they didn’t completely ignore Puetro Rico, I strongly feel like they could have done much more to help the victims.
After interviewing Robin and hearing his story, I realized how different FEMA acted towards both Hurricanes and the geographical places they affected. I also got an inside look and a better understanding of what victims of natural disasters go through. I also realized how many of the problems could have been avoided if FEMA was prepared. Personally I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like for Robin and survivors of natural disasters.
Since the emergence of technology and basic broadcasting methods, Americans have turned to different outlets of media (television, news updates via cell phone, social media, etc.,) in order to stay updated on present events. As the years have passed, the focus of different channels has shifted greatly. This was especially evident during mid-September 2017, when Hurricane Maria struck and devastated thousands of residents of Puerto Rico.
In the aftermath of the hurricane, it was established that nearly 200,000 Puerto Ricans emigrated out of their native territory and into other states within the U.S., and that was not including the thousands of impoverished and elderly people remaining that were plunged further into poverty. The effects of the massive relocation also cascaded a series of other events such as schools closing, government services being cut off, and increased difficulty in finding employment. The hurricane was crippling to the entirety of Puerto Rico in every aspect possible, so it is not by any means reasonable that there was so little media coverage surrounding it as compared to Hurricane Irma or Hurricane Harvey.
It also is not logical that only eleven months after the natural disaster struck, FEMA cut back aid because the “state” of emergency was over, however, it is also true that just five months after the hurricane (February 2018), there were still over 200,000 people left without electricity, running water was not available on the outskirts due to the lack of energy for the pumps, there was an increased crime rate/homicides, and the overall population was entering a state of distress, which could be evident through the increased suicide rates. Furthermore, in the months continuing, the circumstances only continued to worsen. By month 7 post hurricane, public schools continued to close and thousands of people were still left without electricity.
When the statistics of the situation are analyzed and connected to the lack of media coverage, it could be concluded that the lack was due to the fact that enough was not being done to assist Puerto Rican residents. There was no way the media could “spin” the story to make it sound better; simply put, there was not enough being done. There was nothing to broadcast. The residents of a territory not immediately visible to us were just that: out of sight and out of mind. While it could be pointed out that the media failed to cover Hurricane Maria inadequately because it happened shortly after the coverage of two other major hurricanes within the United States (Hurricane Harvey at the end of August 2017 and Hurricane Irma just ten days prior to Maria), this does not excuse the insufficient coverage nor care revolving the catastrophe.
The media’s inadequacy in addressing the urgency and true tragedy of the situation in Puerto Rico was a direct reflection of the overall attitude towards Puerto Ricans as a whole. Various polls conducted showed that only 54% of Americans were actually aware that people born within Puerto Rico were considered citizens. The disconnect could also be a metaphor of the hostility towards the territory by the United States. As time progressed, the media only strayed further and further from topics pertaining to the crisis and instead focused on irrelevant topics. Personally, I believe that this was done intentionally as a means of diverting attention from the problem and also the fact that so little was being done by the U.S to assist the residents of Puerto Rico. The media consistently failed in educating the general public regarding the severity of the problem at hand, which was completely irresponsible. This only worsened the issue since so many people were unaware, and there was no way for anybody to speak up and get others involved in pressing for further aid to be sent to the victims: either through fundraisers, petitions, or protests for the government to be a more proactive force in helping Puerto Ricans get back on their feet.