In Puerto Rico, storm evokes painful memories of Maria, but also reminders of lessons learned

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[Many thanks to Peter Jordens for bringing this item to our attention.] Syra Ortiz-Blanes (Miami Herald) reports on the post-traumatic stress and general anxiety suffered by the people of Puerto Rico now that hurricane season has officially begun with the onslaught of Tropical Storm Isaias and subsequent massive flooding.

As the first rains and winds from a potential tropical storm hit Puerto Rico on Wednesday afternoon, many on the island were figuring out their last-minute preparations.

Gas stations in San Juan had more customers than usual as people filled up their cars. At one garage, a man stored a yellow gasoline-powered generator, the kind used to power essentials such as fridges, in the back of his van. People crowded supermarkets to buy food and other supplies. The streets of La Milla de Oro, a financial district, were mostly empty. Plaza Las Américas, the Caribbean’s largest mall, was slated to close at 5 p.m.

As of Wednesday, Puerto Rico is no longer in the path of potential Tropical Storm Isaias, although tropical storm conditions are “likely” through the night. The weather system has struggled to morph into a storm due to several factors, ranging from its large size to dry winds and clouds of Sahara dust. But even though the tropical system does not present anywhere near the threat of a monster storm such as Hurricane Maria did in 2017, many Puerto Ricans still felt anxious and nervous. Community leaders reassured people, saying they are more prepared than they were three years ago.

Maria left an indelible mark on how Puerto Ricans think about, experience, and prepare for storms and hurricanes. A Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey conducted almost a year after Hurricane Maria found that 9 percent of island residents surveyed reported receiving mental health help due to the storm. In a 2019 study that surveyed around 96,000 Puerto Rican students, 45.7 percent reported hurricane damage to their homes, and 7.2 percent exhibited “clinically significant” symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

On Wednesday, “PTSD” was a trending topic on Twitter in Puerto Rico, with over 20,000 tweets that included the word.

Three community leaders across Puerto Rico spoke to the Miami Herald about how their neighborhoods, communities and towns have prepared for the storm. They spoke about the psychological impact that Hurricane Maria had, but also highlighted the deep resilience and self-reliance their communities had developed after the hurricane. And all three spoke about how, in the wake of perceived government abandonment and neglect, individuals, communities, and groups prepared for natural disasters like this.

‘ANXIETY THAT HAS NOT ENDED’

Mark Martin Bras lives in Vieques, an island municipality of the Puerto Rican archipelago that Hurricane Maria ravaged. The municipality’s electrical grid was still dependent on generators for over a year after the stormIts hospital, destroyed by the hurricane, is still not operational.

Martin Bras, who has lived in Vieques for over two decades, is a board member of ViequesLove, a nonprofit created after Hurricane Maria when the need for better infrastructure and services in the town became apparent. The organization provides immediate relief and fosters community development. It also works closely with the local and state government.

Martin Bras said that even if people were nervous, the community was more prepared now to weather storms.

For full article, see https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/article244584392.html

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