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The Resilience of Disaster Survivors

An interview about Hurricane Maria

I spoke with Emilyann, a 20 year old woman from Isabela, Puerto Rico, who shared her story with me about her experience with Hurricane Maria. She had been on the island when the hurricane struck Isabela, which is on the North-West side of the island. Her town was hit when the eye of the hurricane was exiting Puerto Rico. “It was very strange,” Emilyann said, “because I have never experienced a hurricane before.” She recalls preparing her room for the hurricane, and covering her windows with trash bags. I asked her how she found out about the hurricane, and she said through memes on facebook. “It all happened so quickly. At first people didn’t even take it [the hurricane threat] seriously until a few days before it was supposed to happen”. 

The night of the hurricane, she was awoken by strong winds, and no power. When the hurricane finally dissipated, she said her family was lucky to have fresh water, but they still did not have power or cellular connection. Her situation was one that millions of people on the island experienced. The hurricane knocked out about eighty percent of Puerto Rico’s power lines, and caused the largest blackout in U.S. history, and the second largest in the world. Emilyann recalls, “For me, this was the hardest part because I was always on my phone, and the next day, I just didn’t have a charge” (after letting her phone die the night of the hurricane). She said it definitely was not good, but she also said she doesn’t regret going through the experience. “I grew closer to my family members, and to my community as well.” 

Emilyann left a month after the hurricane, and came to New York by herself. “I have always wanted to be in New York; It has been a dream of mine.” She also said her move to a new place was not that difficult. “It was kinda easy for me. I have always been independent, but I feel it on the holidays when I’m not with my family. It gets hard.” 

Even though she moved, Emilyann has not left Puerto Rico behind. With her family still there she said that, “Whenever I can just book a flight and go, I’ll go”.  She said for her family, it was a matter of just getting adjusted to life after the hurricane. “There was stuff that just wasn’t open, things that you couldn’t do”. This past year when she visited Isabela, she said there was no water in her town. “It’s because of the Hurricane. When the winds came through, it blew out some sand in a lake that’s around my town that supplies the water, so then a drought came, and then there was no water. It was because of the hurricane that people were still suffering.” A common theme in Puerto Rico seems to be this struggle with complications from the aftermath of Maria, spanning from a health-care crisis to problems with infrastructure

Emilyann acknowledges that things in Puerto Rico were not at all easy for its residents. “People had the idea that everyone was reunited and they wanted to rebuild Puerto Rico which was good, but it took a long time to get there. People had the right idea and motivation but it wasn’t that easy.”  But, she said, “I don’t really think about the hurricane because I don’t regret that experience. It was tough to see, like I was fine, but other people weren’t really fine.” While Emilyann acknowledges that she was lucky in terms of the hurricane and its destruction, her positive outlook and attitude shows a resilience in disaster survivors that I think should be better reflected in the media portrayal of these individuals.

Resilience is defined as the capacity to recover quickly; a toughness. I think Emilyann, along with many other Puerto Ricans, displayed a great resilience to the disaster that struck them. Instead of viewing the situation negatively, Emilyann had a positive outlook on everything. She knows that things could have been worse for her, but she still struggled through losing power for long periods of time, she had trouble getting in contact with family in the aftermath, and she watched a hurricane that destroyed her community. After all of that, she still does not regret the experience because ultimately she grew closer to her family and her community. She said the hurricane is something that is always in the back of her mind that she does not really bring forward, so when I asked about the two year anniversary of the hurricane, she said “I was also glad that it [the anniversary] happened, that it’s been a year that has past and also, it was better [in Puerto Rico] a year after, and people wanted it to be better than it was before the hurricane.”

After the whole experience, she ultimately says, “It’s something I will never forget.”


3 Comments

  1. It is important not only to look at people as victims, but rather, survivors as well. Despite the situation and it being an unforgettable one. I think after a disaster we tend to broadly generalize and reflect on the bad, pain and suffering people go through. However, we should also look at the positivity that came out of the disaster their survival, strength, and perseverance. I think your piece reflected a good example of a positive viewpoint on the unfortunate situation.

  2. I think that the disaster bring people closer to their family members and also their community. Everybody started realizing how people round are important to you, because it was like wether you was going thought it or someone close to you is experiencing something more challenging. Some people have something that others did not have access to. For everyone to come together and bring what they have makes the community stronger. I like her positivity about her experience in such disaster, and how others people should react to recover from this disaster, to recover together.

  3. I found it very interesting that Emilyann found out about the hurricane via memes on Facebook! That is crazy to me! It makes me wonder if there was lack of media coverage in Puerto Rican news outlets as well? The hurricane brought Emilyann closer to her family even though she eventually moved far away from them. I found this interesting as well because it highlights the bond that can be created through shared trauma.

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