By Eric Gasa
Hurricanes usually bring out the best in people despite nature’s worst, but during a Trump administration we’ve seen the good, the defiant, and the otherwise strange; from stories of Puerto Rican resolve, Mayor Yulin donning a “NASTY” adorned t-shirt on live TV, to Trump slam dunking rolls of paper towels at crowds.
Maria has put San Juan’s mayor, Carmen Yulin at peculiar odds with the leader of the free world. It’s a surreal image; the President of the United States tweeting his disdain of the island politician from the safety of his personal golf course; the plucky mayor on the other hand, navigating floodwaters from a boat with a megaphone. Puerto Rico lies 1,150 miles away from the mainland but the gap seems to widen by the day.
This week marks one month since Maria’s landfall and with it comes the question, what’s changed? In the latest headlines, President Trump has given himself a “10 out of 10” for his relief response, while an October 20 report by the Washington Post states that 80% of Puerto Ricans lack electricity while an additional 30% do not have access to drinking water.
CNN’s Leyla Santiago calls the island’s condition “post-apocalyptic” in her piece, “How a Month of Hurricane Nightmares Changed Puerto Rico”. Santiago, a born and raised Puerto Rican, has been on the island since Maria’s landfall; she reports from a hotel without electricity.
Even a month after the storm, Santiago’s hometown of Corozal still resembles a warzone. When visiting the community, she must be airlifted by helicopter; the roads are still clogged with debris. Though the island may be thousands of miles away and under different jurisdiction from the mainland, the difference in recovery between Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Maria in Puerto Rico is night and day.
By the time Trump had visited Houston suburbs in early September, exactly one week after the storm’s landfall, mountains of debris had been cleared and removed, while construction equipment hummed along rebuilding the neighborhood.
Though Puerto Rico was struggling financially and lacking effective leadership before the storm, the president’s demeanor towards the situation could not have been more hopeless and critical.
Hurricane Maria revealed the divide between the lone island and the mainland, while at the same time illuminated Puerto Rico’s connection to the world’s sense of goodwill. Even Mexico, a country strained by the promise of an American border wall and two horrific earthquakes last month, sent 30 tons of water, mosquito repellent, and generators to Puerto Rico according to Reuters.
Hurricanes should not be politicized but sometimes politicians do exactly that. Though Trump has frustrated Puerto Rican officials with his banter on Twitter, it should not detract from the determination of rescue responders and other U.S. representatives who have tried to hasten the arrival of aid.
According to CNN, Trump said that first responders cannot remain in Puerto Rico “forever”, later calling the island’s financial crisis “largely of their own making”. In Florida and Texas, the president has made no indication of ceasing relief efforts there. To Trump’s dismay, aiding Puerto Rico should not be a favor; it’s a federal responsibility and priority because Puerto Ricans are Americans.
Though the island will take years if not decades to recover, its greatest loss will be the number of Puerto Ricans leaving the territory—forever.
Santiago describes a scene of moving sadness and hopelessness as she watches survivors board a cruise liner turned transport headed to the U.S.:
Thousands were lining up to leave Puerto Rico. I watched as an old man dragged an oxygen tank, while pleading with organizers to let him on that massive cruise ship now acting as a refugee transport. Another man lifted his shirt to show the scars from an operation, hoping it would convince the right people that he needed to get off the island.
As Santiago watches the ship leave port she wonders how many will actually return home. It may have taken a hurricane to divide an island but it will take Puerto Ricans to reunite Puerto Rico. That may be Hurricane Maria’s most lasting legacy yet.
About the Writer:
Eric Gasa is a an aspiring freelance writer, and recent graduate of Ozarks Technical Community College from Springfield, MO. He has experience in ghost writing, cultural criticism, feature articles, and interviews. Eric is also a frequent contributor of The Spectrum Post, Creative Media Times, The Hummingbyrd, and The Waster rock blog. You can read his latest thoughts on albums, bands, and politics on his blog, www.thelocaljoke.wordpress.com