I’ve sat through four category 1 hurricanes. Some folks can sleep during these (Hurricanes Irma and Charlie came early in the morning), but the sounds of debris hitting the side of my house and branches bouncing off my roof kept me wide awake and cringing. The adrenaline rush kicked into gear again the next morning when I went outside and surveyed the aftermath. We’ve been luck in that both storms shredded leaves off the trees surrounding my house and dropped branches, but we suffered no significant property damage.
It took several days using hand tools (and with the help of my wife and kids) to clear the yard after Charlie. I was 45 at the time, and the heat exhausted but didn’t sicken me. The ten days spent without power were mostly bearable even though the temperatures were in the low to mid 90s during the day. I did have to be pulled aside by my wife on a few occasions to drink water and eat a bit of food as I began to show signs of heat exhaustion. Cooking and refrigeration required a lot of extra effort (ice remained scarce until we found a Publix on a buried power line a few miles down the road; coffee water had to be heated up on a grill), and bathing meant cold showers. And we were fairly lucky in that we had safe water. Friends of ours scooped water flowing from a water main break to fill their toilet tanks. Our neighborhood smelled like sewage in the mornings and evenings as the lifting station pumps were out of commission or running slowly on gasoline powered generators.
The power outage for Irma lasted five days, but I was in much worse shape from sleepless nights and heat exhaustion. I can’t endure as well at 58, and it’s taken a few weeks to recover since the power was restored. A friend of ours, who lost power for six days, ended up in an ER suffering from a fever and vertigo. A nurse asked our friend if her power was out. The hospital had been getting a steady stream of patients worn down by the heat.
So that sucked, but multiply it by 100, and you’ll get a glimpse of what it’s like in Puerto Rico. We are being told by our president that “community effort” and an attitude of not “expecting to have everything done for them” are required for speedier recovery. This being said about folks who have survived a category five hurricane, whose homes, if they still exist, have been badly damaged, who haven’t food, medicine, transportation, clean water and a functional sewage system.
Ever try pulling yourself up by your bootstraps while in shock, while suffering from hunger, thirst and extended heat exhaustion? Ever try to do that without being able to purchase tools and equipment (ATMs shut down, debris-blocked roads, gas shortages, nowhere left to buy a two-by-four)? Ever try to be effective while wondering whether your life will ever be the same again, while not being able to contact loved ones to let them know you’re alive, while wondering if your son’s asthma medicine (mother’s diabetes medicine, etc.) will hold out until new supplies arrive?
If you agree with the president’s pronouncements about Puerto Rico, then I wish you an equivalent fate to what the Puerto Ricans have suffered. I’ll look forward to seeing how well you all perform under similar circumstances. Please show us all the shining example of your determination and grit while standing in a shredded pile of belongings in front of your collapsed house. I’m waiting to be inspired.