Traveling on the whirlwinds of tempestuous storms that left a path of carnage shows billions of dollars in damage and a long recovery.
When three sequential major storms hit parts of the Caribbean, US, Mexico and Central America in 2017, residents in the area never expected the type of devastation shown after the hurricanes ended.
Now, the names of the sibling cyclones—Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria—are history makers etched into our memory like Indonesia’s tsunami in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
To mark the one year anniversary of the disasters, Ark Republic is publishing a series of stories by a dozen storytellers for the next two weeks. The stories narrate the experiences of those in the eye of the hurricanes and their long term effects.
The effort is our inaugural major collaborative project, titled, “The Hurricane Trifecta: One Year Later.” As you will see, we capture some of those stories that might have been swept away with the last of the storms’ surge of waves.
Whether we narrate the everyday struggle of displaced Puerto Ricans attempting to rebuild in Brooklyn or restaurateurs in the British and United States Virgin Islands working to get their eateries fully running, the process of recovery will take years and much effort.
For the Gulf Coast region, when Hurricane Harvey landed in southern Texas then moved to west Louisiana, it left $125 billion in damages.
The outlying districts of Corpus Christi and Houston were underwater for days. When waters receded, there were 100,000 claims on waterlogged cars with three-fourths listed as totaled.
In Houston alone, an estimated 100,000 homes were damaged with more than 60,000 people displaced. In addition, the local agricultural industry suffered a $200 million loss between livestock and crops.
As with most crises, those with limited means and access experienced unrecoverable losses, and were more often, stuck in their homes rather than able to evacuate. Today, Blacks and Latinos and the working and poor evacuees, still meet difficulty in finding housing.
While homeowners in modest-sized towns like Beaumont and Port Arthur, Texas, and St. Charles, Louisiana, strain with the high-cost of rebuilding, more challenges emerge with the current Administration’s cutbacks on social spending.
As soon as Hurricane Harvey lost its legs, Hurricane Irma swelled from off of the coast of Cape Verde. The storm trailed through the Caribbean then up to Florida, and finally fizzed in Alabama. To add, Georgia and sections of the Carolinas saw some of the strongest winds, flooding and downpours.
Barbuda, a sister-island to Antigua was totally leveled by forceful, unrelentless gales leaving the small isle bare and uninhabitable. This was not the only island severely damaged, as places such as St. Martin, experienced significant infrastructure damage and mass displacement.
As well, Cuba endured large sea swells that crashed against the island’s stonewall barrier. A nation-state with continued socialist rulership in spite of international pressure, Cuba’s emergency preparedness plan proved to be so airtight that Puerto Rico’s underwhelming readiness blushed.
Puerto Rico, like other territories and states, took a direct hit, and got pummelled. What occured after the storm has changed the dynamic of relief aid. Whereas the US federal government responded timely and offered generous support to mainland towns during Hurricane Harvey and Irma, Puerto Rico was left sputtering for dear life.
For days, the world watched Carmen Yulín Cruz, the mayor of San Juan, beg Donald Trump to send sufficient supplies and rescue workers to assist residents who were slowly dying from the lack of clean water, food and electricity.
The growing issues of Puerto Rico only heightened the need to draw attention to other areas that received harsher or more devastating blows. Most of the residential and commercial structures on British Virgin Islands (BVI) and US Virgin Islands were damaged. Now, Black residents who go back generations on the territories fight to figure out how to keep their homes and businesses in a depressed economy.
St. Martin/Maarten almost flatlined. In the aftermath, the social delineation drawn between those with resources and others working in low-pay salaries became salient. Tourists and the rich (mostly white) were ferried off of the island, but the common poor folk had to stay.
If two hurricanes were not enough, Hurricane Maria appeared with a deluge of water and high winds. In some cases, the storm traversed over the same areas that Hurricane Irma already wrecked havoc.
Termed as one of the deadliest storms of the century, it left 3.5 million residents of Puerto Rico without any power and 95 percent of cell phone service down, as well as, a plethora of other infrastructure damages to other islands. For the US Virgin Islands, the only hospital was evacuated when the roof was ripped off by forceful winds.
Before the storm, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure showed signs of weakness. After the hurricane, the island’s loss of a compromised infrastructure resulted in a humanitarian crisis with limited food, water, power and phone service. The governor and the main city’s mayor, Cruz, sought help, but when she voiced criticism of the tardy response by the Administration, she began a back-and-forth with Donald Trump.
“That’s a crying damn shame,” said Retired Lt. General Honoré, citing Donald Trump’s slow government response that he saw as causing more crisis in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria. Honoré oversaw recovery efforts in New Orleans in 2005. In an interview, he declared that Trump “don’t give a damn about poor people . . . people of color . . . [is] an S.O.B. that rides around in Airforce One [airplane] denying services that’s needed by the people . . .”
Meanwhile, as Puerto Rico took the center stage regarding post-recovery efforts, USVI had no hospital and limited FEMA aid. The lack of government help resulted in a handful of private islanders using resources to bring aid there. Former New York City mayor, Michael Bloomberg, and NBA All-Star Tim Duncan, both helped with USVI recovery. These efforts have led to some of the private funders to invest in the territory.
Many in US media do not know that Dominica was one of the worst islands affected. With entire crops destroyed along with roads, power and communication, 80 percent of the island incurred some type of damage. To help, Trinidad and Tobago sent over two tons of supplies to Dominica that included 1,000 crates of concrete blocks given by Trinidad’s Muslim community.
One year later
From loss of assets to loss of life, trauma surrounding the multi-regional natural disasters, still lingers in the everyday lives of millions of people. As the pieces slowly come together, residents rethink how they will be ready for the next major hurricane that is bound to happen.
Kaia Niambi Shivers is a media scholar and professor at New York University. She has been working as a media professional for over two decades, getting her first chops a local Black paper in her hometown of Los Angeles. Founder of Ark Republic, she covers diaspora, news and features. The story is part of the Ark Republic’s inaugural major collaborative project, the Hurricane Trifiecta: One Year Later.