Nearly three and a half million Puerto Ricans are suffering from the worst hurricane to hit the Island in eighty nine years. And I know this because when I was a child my father would tell me about the hurricanes he had survived as we prepared for another one.
In 1928, San Felipe Segundo, a category 5 storm, hit Ponce, the second largest town in the southern part of the island, where he lived with his family. They had to flee their house by the beach and his father rowed them in a small dingy to reach the public shelter as objects flew above them. San Felipe left five hundred thousand people homeless and caused fifty million dollars’ worth of damages.
San Felipe moved from the southeast across the whole island to exit through the northwest, the same path that Hurricane María took this September twentieth, with winds of 155 miles per hour and more than twenty inches of rain.
Officials in Puerto Rico describe the aftermath as “apocalyptic.” At least fifteen people are confirmed dead. And there’s almost no cellphone coverage, no running water and no power. Without communication, millions, including leaders, first responders and whole families, have been cut off from the world and from one another. Many roads are washed away and others are blocked by debris, creating more isolation. The current estimate in damages is at twenty billion dollars. And a few days after the storm, seventy thousand people were evacuated from their homes because of concerns that the Guajataca damn in the northwest may collapse.
Hurricanes were part of my childhood, but I can’t imagine the devastation of this one. Governor Roselló calls it “Unprecedented,” as he calls for aid from Congress, the president and the rest of the country.
I hope we don’t treat this catastrophe as a typical news cycle where attention shifts elsewhere after a few days. The five million Puerto Ricans living in the US mainland are mobilizing to help and so should we all. The road to recovery for Puerto Ricans will be measured in months and years and we need to stand with them for the duration.
As Texans and other southern states learned with Harvey, Irma and María - and as Vermonters learned with Irene - next time it might just be us.