Aug 22, 2018

The Case of the Missing Puerto Rico Blog Post

"Say goodbye to your friends in Russia, hello to the FBI!"

On September 20th, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, with winds of 250 kph. The resulting destruction of lives and infrastructure was shocking, but even more shocking was the lack of response by the US government and others to the humanitarian disaster on American soil.

In the aftermath, translator and interpreter Heidi Cazes-Sevilla, who is based on the island, inspired me and many other friends and colleagues with her tales of human courage and help for neighbors on the ground where so many died or saw their property and lives blown into ruin.

The many pictures she sent me nearly a year ago (those above are just a small part from her tour of Hell) trickled slowly over a low-bandwidth connection via her mobile phone. Her many updates from before and after the storm kept us on edge worrying about her and so many others trapped in the storm's path.
Going to sleep. 12:30 amStill calm in Puerto Rico.A bit of rain, sort of a drizzle. We still have power, wifi, cable. 
Just heard the 11:00 pm update. No real change.Maria's hurricane force winds will enter the southeast of the island at about 8 am at 175mph, and will exit northeast at 8 pm. 
From the current trajectory, we will be getting either the eye of the storm, or just the eyewall. 
Our house is in a safe area, not floodable, not too high, surrounded by some elevation which might protect us. Also, it is a neighborhood where houses are closeby, also protecting each other... It is built of concrete cinder blocks, ALL its walls. That means it is sort of a bunker, with some areas which are bunkers within the bunker. It won't be confortable probably, but I am sure we will weather the storm. 
See you all tomorrow again, after the storm, hoping we have at least some cellular coverage. 
Sharing hurricane advice from my friend Alma:
My lawyer can't never get out of me, even in crisis. Here some tips:
1) take photos of your property prior to hurricane, for insurance claim purposes.
2) take away any decorations or devices from yard which might become projectiles. If something happens with any of your belongings, which could have been prevented, you will be responsible.
3) don't to
uch any cables on floor, even if it seems like not a live wired.
4) take your animals into your home or to safe ground. Leaving an animal behind, its breaking the law, because it's animal abuse.
5) don't go outside in the middle of the storm to check what's going on. Even when the eye of the hurricane brings a deceiving calmness.
6) don't block entrances of homes by any means, particularly cars.
7) be aware with the emergency, the prices on gas and basic essentials are frozen by the government. So if a store wants to overcharge, report them to the authorities.
8)keep some cash with you, because banks will be closed and atms won't work.
9) filled you car tank, you might not have gas in a while.
10) if you are an employer, pay your employees today, not because of the law but for moral reasons.
11) any other observations from fellow lawyers are welcome.

Hello all! 
Thank you for your messages of support!
Day 2 and doing ok. Connectivity is still iffy, only thanks to AT&T. We can connect via phone, slow whatsapp and sometimes messenger. Internet still very sporadic.
Impressive seeing how neighbors gather round for cleanup, clearing trees and obstacles from the way. Will post pictures later, how people got rid of huge trees and posts blocking access to another neighborhood.
All we know is what we see around home and hear from neighbors. Most of my information on situation here has come by phone or messages from outside PR, or the crazy access to internet and FB. 
One radio staTion which most of the time only says they are the only station transmitting... that's all..
Please post any information you read, just text, not links, so we can be informed. 
I learned of curfew from my son in Philly, about hurricane path from my son in Boston, that airport is opening toncommercial flights on Sat pm, too.
We are starved for information!
We are fine, let's see what tomorrow brings...

I want to share what my friend Carol Terry wrote. It perfectly reflects life in PR these weeks...
I'm just getting back in touch with the outside world as I have internet on my phone at home today, and although I had missed being connected, now I realize more directly how sad our situation is islandwide. I lost power the day before the hurricane and our communications have been down ever since so I didn't even know what path María had taken after battering PR or how extensive the damages were locally. After the hurricane you have so much work to do in your own home and community that you can't even begin to focus on the rest of the people. And if you're a parent of small children, that limits you even more because you must protect and feed them first.
Gasoline is more readily available now which has helped a lot. Before that you didn't even want to drive your car for fear of waiting in line 5 to 12 hours to get gas.
Then little things start to happen that give you some hope (a small sector got power back, a friend brought you water...) and you keep pushing forward one day at a time.
Note: If you are ever under hurricane warning, make sure you have enough food and water for 2 weeks ( they say 3 days, but that is totally insufficient).
As a small island, Puerto Rico is completely crippled. No power, so huge demand for fuels (which can only be imported by boat). You feel anxious, hopeless, scared, tired, hungry, thirsty, but you also wake up stronger everyday.
We have water (at least sometimes) now and we have a generator at night (which I am even ashamed to mention because I know most people here don't have one). You stand in line at the store to find empty shelves. No water (still) and it's overwhelming and terrifying. I don't only speak for myself. This is the current status of MILLIONS of U.S. Citizens, but, hey, we have paper towels, right?
Sorry for the sarcasm, but when you don't have water to drink, a role of paper towels doesn't do much for you.
HOWEVER, we are extremely thankful for the help we hear is being sent to PR and all the stateside personnel who have come to help. I can guarantee our struggle is real and not something we brought onto ourselves. This hurricane has devastated Puerto Rico. I could leave and go elsewhere, but I would be turning my back on this beautiful island and its people who have always been so wonderful to me ever since I stepped on Puerto Rican soil❤ We will come back stronger, but it will take some time.
I don't think I will ever be the same after this ordeal. I have learned and grown a great deal in the past couple of weeks. This only makes me love Puerto Rico more. The people make the difference.

Conversation with a nurse about how she fared with Maria. Thursday, a week and a day after the storm.
She tells me that her husband works in air rescue, so he was away, both for Irma and for Maria. So as she was alone with her daughter, she decided to pass the storm downstairs with her in-laws. After all, winds are worse on higher floors.
The house complies with the building code, so basically all they passed through was the awful experience of the storm passing, and some water coming in. She told me that the winds were terrible, that the different sounds of the storm were terrifying, that it seemed as if the storm was talking to her. She told me that there was a storm shutter that could be moved, and she could look outside and see the storm passing. She told me she decided to take her 5 year old daughter to that window and let her see the storm, because this is "something historic." She told me that she remembers when Hugo came, she was about 7, and her mother made her look out and see the storm, because it was "something historic."
She told me that she has an uncle who was one of the people who died during the hurricane. She said that he lived out in the country with his wife. She told me that when the winds were at their strongest, it seemed that the house's door was about to burst open, so he went outside to strengthen it. She told me he was not a healthy man, and he always used oxygen. When he came back into the house, he was exhausted. He lay down on his wife's lap to rest, and passed.
She told me that area was completely incommunicated. There was no phone, and also no way to get there through the destruction. Her aunt was alone in that house for 2 days with her husband until someone was able to reach her. After that, it took an additional day to be able to remove the body. Nobody knew what to do. It was only until two police officers came, saw the dire situation and took special care, that the remains were taken away.
She told me that her uncle was buried yesterday. They could not have a "velorio" or wake after all that time, and he was buried wearing what he wore when he was born. Nothing could be done about it. After all, it was urgent to bury him, as so long had passed, with the heat and the humidity...
She told me she learned about the funeral because she got a message on her cell to call a pharmacy. The "licenciado" -someone from the pharmacy- gave her the news about the death and the funeral. As there were no phones, the pharmacy became the communication center for that town.
She told me she feels terrible for her aunt. She cannot imagine what she went through those two days. She is sure she will need psychological help.

A dam has failed and caused "extremely dangerous" flooding on Puerto Rico's Guajataca river in the wake of Hurricane Maria, authorities say.
The National Weather Service (NWS) said buses were "currently evacuating people from the area as quickly as they can".
At least 13 people have died on the US territory since Maria ripped through Puerto Rico, devastating homes and knocking out the island's electricity.
The island's governor has called it the worst storm in a century.
Operators of the Guajataca Dam said the dam, located at the northern end of Lake Guajataca in northwest Puerto Rico, failed at 14:10 local time (18:10 GMT).
It sparked a flash flood emergency for Isabela and Quebradillas municipalities, the NWS said in a series of tweets.
The agency urged residents in the area to "move to higher ground now" in an alert posted on its website.
"This is an extremely dangerous and life-threatening situation. Do not attempt to travel unless you are fleeing an area subject to flooding or under an evacuation order," the alert said.
Hurricane Maria, a category three storm, is now moving away from the Turks and Caicos Islands and is expected to head to the northeast and east of the Bahamas over the weekend, forecasters say.
It has claimed more than 30 lives across the region, and is the second devastating storm to hit the Caribbean this hurricane season - the first being category five Irma earlier in September.
Maria caused widespread destruction on the small island of Dominica, where it flattened homes, destroyed buildings and cut off telecommunications when it hit on Monday night.
At least 15 people have died and 20 others are missing on Dominica after the tempest, according to the Caribbean island's Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit.
"It has been brutal," he said on Thursday on the nearby island of Antigua. "We've never seen such destruction."
Puerto Rico's Governor Ricardo Rossello described the hurricane as "the most devastating storm in a century".
He said Maria had hit the island's electricity grid so badly that it could take months to restore power.
Images shared on social media show roofs being stripped away as winds as strong as 140mph (225km/h) whipped trees and power lines in Puerto Rico's capital city, San Juan.
US President Donald Trump said the storm had "totally obliterated" the US territory, and pledged to visit Puerto Rico.
He has yet to declare the island a disaster area but has made federal emergency aid available.
Sort of not too publicly, and hedging the language, Puerto Rican Government Acknowledges Hurricane Maria Death Toll of 1,427
“Mr. Cerame acknowledged that the final version of the report hedges the language to say that the additional deaths “may or may not be attributable” to the storm; the 1,427 figure was also deleted from a chart.”
From the NY Times...
It is hard to believe that 13 days after Maria, supplies have not reached areas beyond the metropolitan area. And communication is also still come and go. (There is still no cell signal on the road west to Dorado beyond Rio Hondo, on km. 5)
Not even towns that are along main expressways, that have been open to traffic from the first days!! Forget about remote towns up on the hills, with access through winding rouds that used to be surrounded by lush vegetation...
And with the difficulty of getting gas, even people who live on accessible roads cannot afford the risk of driving into the metro area and not being able to return.
This is terrible!!

The copied messages above (only some of what Heidi shared) are in no particular order, scrambled as if by the winds and left disordered, because nearly one year past the event I really, still, cannot process what has happened. Not the natural disaster itself, which is one of many to break lives and hearts in my lifetime, many of which have much higher death tolls than the indeterminate thousands who died in Puerto Rico and the many more who continue to suffer the consequences of the hurricane unaided.

It's that last part. Unaided.

I remember the phrase "united we stand" from my school days, and by and large over the course of my life I have seen good domestic responses to natural disasters in the country of my birth.

There are many stories about the state of things in Puerto Rico now. Most of the island has power again I am told. But much of what one reads still reflects the neglect and deliberate denial of basic human rights to the US citizens and others on that island.

There are disasters in the United States of America right now which make the gale force of a hurricane seem like a pitiful fart when one considers their implications for peace, stability and prosperity worldwide. Puerto Rico and the tribulations of its good people are merely collateral damage, alas.

For nearly a year I've been unable to write that blog post I wanted to, lauding the courage and perseverance of my fellow citizens in Puerto Rico. These are no less praiseworthy for my continuing inability to write that post. I think of them, with some guilt, rather often, though they compete for attention with many other tragedies of children - even babies - ripped from their parents' arms at the US border and worse. So much worse.

Translators Without Borders - that notorious charity-washing operation is silent so far as I can tell, perhaps because the bog-dwelling corporations and their associates behind it fear derailing their gravy train by angering the Cheeto in Chief. Probably no profit to be discerned by its members from recycling donated human resources.

We owe a debt to Puerto Rico and to so many others who suffer; it is interest on all the times we ourselves have been aided in manners known and not known when we faced overwhelming challenges. How that debt is to be paid is for each individual to decide, though at a national level the guidelines for this are much clearer and the obligations are clearly not being met in Puerto Rico and at the US border with Mexico and at other points of entry to what was once known as The Land of the Free.

Stand fast. Do what you can when you can. And do not give ground to tyranny and stupidity, much less to raw criminality. We are at war in this world, and although the usual confusion of battlefields can obscure the action and the roles, it is clear that the unholy union of RepubliKKKan greed and Russian ambition centered in Washington D.C. represents a base evil which undermines much of what civilized countries at their best can stand for.

I liked very much the comment of Texan candidate for the US Senate "Beto" O'Rourke when he said that he was not running against his opponent nor against the fake president of the country. He is running for the Senate, for the people of his state, for the good of the country. Let's keep a positive eye on the prize. As for those others: they can run, run for office, run to the arms of their Kremlin masters or other partners in international crime. But they can't hide.

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