Hurricane Maria: One Year Later
Editor’s note: This is a guest blog by Past Council Chairperson Miriam Vazquez
On the morning of Wednesday, September 20, 2017, Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico, devastating the island and plunging all of its 3.4 million residents into a desperate humanitarian crisis.
Hurricane Maria is the worst storm to hit Puerto Rico in over 80 years, and arrived two weeks after Hurricane Irma passed just north of the island and left over a million people without power. The effect on families — and the island’s infrastructure — will take many years to heal.
Despite the challenges, people came together to help their neighbors in any way they could, by clearing debris and even giving their food aid to those who needed it more.
The biggest challenge was the absence of electrical power on the island and the rising death toll. After more than five months without electrical power, many started working in communities to restore the power themselves. Puerto Rico also experienced rising suicide rates due to the depression of those who felt they lost everything, had no food or water, and whose families had left the island.
One year later, you can see the resilience of those who were put to the test of this powerful hurricane. They continue to help others even when they are still struggling. Lions are passionate about what they do and they rose to the occasion as others in need were reaching out to get help. There is still a lot of work to be done. Even today, there are homes with blue tarps for roof. Some are without power. Some families live in one room because they cannot pay to rebuild the rest of their house. Many live with relatives but want to be in their own home.
Many doctors have left the island of Puerto Rico, and we have a great deal of patients with diabetes. According to the Behavior and Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States, since 1996, Puerto Rico has consistently has one of the highest rates of diabetes in the US. There is large population of elderly people who cannot afford to buy basic items due to rising costs of medicine in Puerto Rico, especially diabetic patients who have to purchase insulin and other medication on a monthly basis. And that does not take into account any complications for these patients.
More than 300,000 natives of Puerto Rico have left the island. Many people lost their jobs, professionals like doctors, and a great majority of young people also left to the mainland. One current estimate places the number of casualties at close to 2,900.
Together we can make a difference. And we are. The Lions of Puerto Rico continue to work closely with Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF), which provided a US$100,000 Major Catastrophe grant, FEMA and Islamic Relief USA. Many organizations throughout the United States helped to provide basic necessities for people throughout the island.
The Lions of Multiple District continue to identify areas where people are still struggling and look for partners to help them get back on their feet. Puerto Rico is a beautiful, friendly and warm island. We look forward to a brighter tomorrow and to continuing work as Lions to honor our motto, “We Serve.”