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Severe natural disasters tend to have an everlasting impact, for many Puerto Ricans this is true, as Hurricane Maria changed their lives forever. It also brought attention to many issues Puerto Ricans were facing even before Hurricane Maria hit the island, in September 2017. Enlightened, by the lack of aid and supplies after Hurricane Maria and the popular leaked chats, many Puerto Ricans, were encouraged to look at the bigger picture. Climate change, the substantial amount of economic debt, their corrupt governor which at the time was Ricardo Rossello, amongst other things. For many Puerto Ricans, their trauma of great loss and abandonment in their time of need triggered their power to fight for the betterment of their country. 

Ricardo Rosselló: Former Governor of Puerto Rico

That being said, July of 2019, a political scandal brought distraught to the country, involving the governor Ricardo Rossello and his staff and or “inner circle.” Hundreds of pages of leaked messages were made public. It was extremely shocking, in these messages Mr. Rossello used derogatory language in reference to his own Puerto Rican people. Mr. Rossello’s sexist, misogynist, homophobic, comments questioned his leadership at large. He even had the audacity to talk about the dead, of Hurricane Maria, “joking about bodies being piled up in government facilities.” He mocked those with disabilities and the obese, while also reflecting corruption within these messages. 

Unfortunately, the fact is many Puerto Ricans were already disappointed with the way their country was being managed. Provoked by ridicule and dehumanizing messages, led to the outrage that filled the streets of San Juan. A protest began, thousands of Puerto Ricans set out to make a powerful change. For several days, people from communities far and near, came together as one with one specific goal, to get governor Ricardo Rossello to resign. 

#RickyRenuncia was yelled and echoed until it was finally heard and followed through. On August 2, 2019, Ricardo Rossello’s resignation became effective as he stepped down as governor. Now Wanda Vázquez Garced is governor of Puerto Rico.“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.”

This step towards change is just the beginning for the Puerto Rican people. This just shows, if they stand together and fight for what they want, despite the wrath they might face from the law, great change is likely to result. For the passionate activist and even the general Puerto Ricans, this #RickyRenuncia protest was extremely empowering and made nonbelievers believe in the power of the people and their voice as it makes a difference. “The key to success is to focus on goals, not obstacles.” 

The Flood T&T

Coast Guards rescued residents in the La Horquetta.

For almost a week, beginning on, October 18, 2018, Trinidad and Tobago, experienced widespread severe flash flooding. After relentless rainfall, approximately 80 percent of the country was affected, mainly the northern, eastern, and central parts of the island. Many communities were either partially or completely flooded such as Sangre Grande, Matelot, Caroni, Mayaro, La Horquetta and St. Helena, affecting roughly 6,000 people. The floodwater depth made roads impassable and left some communities inaccessible, public warning messages alerting people that certain communities were now in either the orange or red risk level. Heavy rainfall within 24 hours equivalent to or surpassing a month’s worth of rain with loss of telecommunications and electricity for approximately three days after all the rainfall. Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley said, “This is a national disaster…” 

Stephen and his family luckily did not experience any flooding or destruction to their home or business. He said it’s because he “lives on an incline, higher grounds. Places that got hit by the flood were low line areas, so when the river bank couldn’t hold anymore it began to overflow, due to poor infrastructure and the government decision not to clean the drains.” Unfortunately, a lot of his neighboring communities were not as lucky and were in need of immediate help. Like most severe natural disasters various people experience loss or damage to property. Countless people required assistance to evacuate, shelter due to unlivable home conditions, food, clothes donations, etc. “Conditions of the houses after the flood was bad because of the level of the floodwaters, a lot of feces, people lost their cars, some were covered entirely. Some people also experienced landslide, foundations, and walls of homes were destroyed.” He explained that “some people cut holes in their roof, to escape because the flood water was roof high, people slept on top their roof for days.” 

People escaping the floodwaters by going onto rooftops.

Despite the dreadful situation people within different communities came together to respond to the crisis. Stephen himself along with family and friends didn’t just sit around, they set out to help those in need. When asked if people within communities helped more than the government, he said, “yes, by far, we bought food, water, non-perishable items, cleaning supplies and delivered it to the flood victims.” He described the experience as “heartbreaking, sad, seeing people lose everything having to start over from scratch. What was nice was seeing what humanitarian was like seeing people from different religious beliefs, cultural beliefs and races  coming together to help people that were in distress.” In such a devastating time, disaster collectivism is really what makes a huge difference immediately after a disaster.

Above waist height floodwaters

The abundant willingness of support and assistance that many provided to the flood victims was outright courageous. Even though a lot of livestock died and agricultural lands destroyed, directly after the flood “people were delivering hot meals and sandwiches to the victims, breakfast, lunch, and dinner they never were out of food.” Not only were the people within local and afar communities donating and helping those in need but, also the hardware stores, local and wholesale groceries. Stephen said, “hardware stores contributed too, they donated sandbags and other materials, to build barriers.” “The wholesalers, Price Smart an international franchise when supplies were bought for distribution the managers gave a 10% discount off the total bill. Some local groceries closed their business and actually packed boxes and hampers with supplies to distribute.” 

Distribution of sandbags
Distribution of supplies

Among those affected were prisoners, at Golden Grove Remand Section, floodwaters filled cells with approximately 3 feet of water. Those detained there were awaiting trial but have not yet been convicted. “A lot of offices were called out, some couldn’t reach the line of duty, they had to move prisoners from their cells to higher grounds, a very difficult task, a lot of prisoners and no staff, many prisoners lost their personal items.” For many first responders, it was hard for them as well, to commute, the Defense Force that could reach the line of duty helped distribute supplies and aided in rescue operations some people needed to be airlifted from their homes, they also utilized boats and rafts for rescue missions and the Coast Guards used scuba gears. During all the chaos “the Army delivered a baby, in the midst of the flood, on a boat.” 

Rescuing ladies in the floodwaters.

Even though disasters as a whole, are devastating for those that are affected, the recovery process and or the immediate aftermath is really what defines the moment. It’s a time in which many people effortlessly come together as one and take care of one another. Even though it is initially a time of weakness and sadness many people gain strength, sometimes going above and beyond to help others. In such a situation, people often open their hearts to complete strangers, it’s a beautiful thing. “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”

The National Emblem of Trinidad and Tobago.

Psychological Health: Trauma

Reliable health resources after a severe natural disaster is an important factor, to begin recovery. Psychological health assistance should be a priority. Just imagine losing everything, but your life. All that you have ever worked for, such as your homes, businesses, some or all family members and or friends. Emotional support and mental stability is defiantly a need not a want.

On an everyday basis people have personal concerns and or issues in which they have to deal with, but now adding the effects of a natural disaster the trauma can be overwhelming. Stress, depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, only to name a few. This is not only a concerning factor for adults but also children as well. Remaining with little to nothing, in a state or country that has per-existing economic issues, poor infrastructure, political controversy, etc. is just throwing salt on an open wound. All these issues aren’t separate from one another they all correlate and are long term problems. For those who are already living in impoverished areas, after a natural disaster life becomes even harder. Getting assistance to repair and replace things in this case after hurricane Maria assistance wasn’t guaranteed, which became paralyzing for many families that were already dealing with economic complications.

For adults, those with families both children and seniors this can be extremely hard. Taking into consideration pre-existing health issues in which they may not have access to the medication they need, or electricity for electricity-dependent medical devices. The power outage after Hurricane Maria was stifling, without electricity for months unable to have what we consider in the twenty- first century as an essential. For those with children, having to act like you are emotionless or trying to make it seem like everything was ok, and that you’re ok, hindered their healing process after the trauma, having low expectations of a positive aftereffect.

For children this is like a loss of childhood, their capacity to adapt to this new lifestyle is not easy. Seeing your parents frustrated because things are just out of their control, struggling to find clean water, no electricity for months, home needing repairs if it isn’t completely gone. The normalcy of their life is somewhat gone, schools closed for weeks to months, the loss of playmates, places they once went destroyed, etc. According to the article The Maria Generation’: Young People are Dying and Suffering on an Island with a Highly Uncertain Future children’s reading, writing, and math skills began to decline, children either attempted to commit suicide or did, increase in sexual abuse, depression and or anxiety. It became “learned hopelessness” their “normal childhood” gone in a blink of an eye and their opportunity to be the “perfect child” is lost in the trauma.

The gone but never forgotten lives, wreaked material possessions, shortcomings of natural resources, and the sense of abandonment one or the other or combined played an enormous role in the trauma people faced. Patricia Noboa Ortega the author of Psychoanalysis as a Political Act After Maria was one of the people who volunteered her needed service as a psychologist to listen to the people of Puerto Rico. She set out to “provide a safe space in which residences could talk about their experiences and thus allow them to calm their anguish… talk about their distress, suffering… it was a way for human beings to calm their anguish with words” (272) She made a great point stating that every person is different, no two people are alike, “they could have lost the same thing” but react and feel differently. After being in a traumatizing situation it’s common for people to become actors and actresses as they tend to put up a front, while inside their dying. For the author, her home signified “a promise that she made to herself as a child,” (272) for many accomplishments and dreams were crushed, having to start all over and not sure what the future holds.

Not everyone has the mentality to cope well, communication is gold, simply asking someone how they are doing, or feeling may make a total difference to their mood. Talking with your child or children, having an honest and pure conversation and or allowing a professional to do such, maybe a step towards walking them off a ledge, but with words. Also, in the article listed above, there was a young man that sent a warning text to his mother. Unfortunately, the telecommunication lines were poor his mother’s replied text message got delivered after it was too late. The young man committed suicide, he was crying for help, he just needed reassurance that his life was worth living, but he didn’t get it in time.

 After such a traumatic event in which the majority of the people experienced a drastic change, people need a support system not in a financial aspect, but physically and psychologically. During times like this building connections and having someone to talk to is consoling, just someone listening to you, without them transferring their emotions. Releasing this heavyweight off of your chest will likely allow you to stop with the clouded thoughts and have some clarity.

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