San Juan – In Puerto Rico when it rains, it pours. The earthquakes and aftershocks of recent days have us revisiting and reliving the traumas left by Hurricane Maria in 2017 which we thought had been left behind.
And once again we have to deal with the federal government’s failures, which has not even freed up the totality of funds dedicated to the Island after the devastation of the hurricane; with the inefficiencies of the local centralized government; with the opportunism of politicians who disgracefully exploit the people for electoral gain; and with the crude reality that there is never any planning, only improvisation.
Yet again is exposed the fact that it is the municipal governments who respond as well as neighbors, community leaders, and an unknown number of volunteers who are organized principally among social media networks in order to distribute supplies and food, assist in the transfer of sick and elderly people and animals, remove debris, and transport construction materials, among many other things. The list is long.
If we learned anything from Maria it is that we cannot have the luxury of waiting for help from the government and that, as families, we have to develop our own rapid response plans and equip ourselves in order to survive.
If, for a hurricane that is advised days in advance, the response has been late and disastrous, what can one expect in the case of an earthquake that is unpredictable?
I lived for various years in California and I experienced some earthquakes. But it is one thing to go through that in a place that is accustomed to these phenomena and has ample response plans, versus a place where sometimes the sirens that warn of tsunamis don’t even go off.
In Puerto Rico, like perhaps in other places, preparedness is not our strong suit. For decades, experts warned that the government was giving out construction permits left and right in coastal zones and flood areas, for example, and that at some point the sea would reclaim its own. And that climate change would take its toll. If, on top of that, you add the fact that nothing is maintained, including the drains that are filled with debris, it is no surprise that here with a simple shower there are residential sectors that are completely flooded. And earthquakes have exposed the practice of constructing without proper regulations to prevent collapses like those provoked in recent days by the tremors.
Despite being surrounded by water on all sides and experiencing a strong sun throughout the year, we also have not developed renewable energy projects that would free us from our dependence on oil, coal, and gas in order to produce electrical energy. The earthquakes once again demonstrated the fragility of our battered power grid. We remained in the dark, although service returned more promptly; but there are sectors that are still without electrical power.
Despite her fertile land and favorable climate, the Island imports 85% of its foodstuffs.
Maria broke up many of the renewable energy efforts and agricultural production. But if Puerto Rico has something good, it is its people. They are its best resource. They do not give up. They keep trying. They reinvent. They are resilient.
This resiliency, this endurance evidenced after Maria, has made yet another appearance in the face of the earthquakes. Yes, there is anxiety and in many cases panic, but also there is a sense of community forged during hard times, and I have no doubt that this will take us to the other side, whether a hurricane comes or the earth shudders once again.