Recent natural disasters demand more human decency

Photo courtesy of the Grizzly Staff

Kevin Leon

keleon@ursinus.edu

 

The 2017 hurricane season has been one of the most relentless in recent history. Many of the hurricanes that formed in the Atlantic managed to reach a category 5, the strongest category of hurricane, before making landfall. Two hurricanes that stand out are Harvey, which struck southeast Texas on Aug. 25 before stalling over Houston from Aug. 26 to 30, and Maria, which battered the already cash-strapped island of Puerto Rico on Sept. 20. In each occasion, millions of dollars worth of destruction ensued and political figures failed to swiftly help American citizens.

Hurricane Harvey strengthened rapidly in the Gulf of Mexico, reaching and sustaining category 4, and made landfall in Rockport, Texas. It then slowly crept upwards along the coast before stalling over the Houston Metro Area for four days, submerging 444 square miles (an area six times the size of D.C.) of the flood-prone area.

After the storm, the mayor of the city of Houston, Sylvester Turner, called on Texas Governor Greg Abbott to tap into State funds reserved for “rainy days.” If there ever was a rainy day, the four days of Harvey pouring an average of 30 inches in Houston would be it. Abbott rejected allocating those funds to Houston for almost an entire month, before conceding.

Abbott was partly convinced to use the funds by Tuner’s proposed tax hike. The other pressure came from the federal government. The government would match the funds that Texas used for hurricane relief as long as they were used within 30 days of the hurricane. For a while it looked as though Abbott would stand firm and leave the city of Houston, the largest city in the state, to repair itself unaided, but as the Houston Chronicle reported, he wrote the check a few days before the deadline. Turner consequently took the tax hike off the table.  It’s great that Abbott changed his stance, but it’s blatant that he did so to halt a tax increase and because he knew he would be reimbursed by the federal government.

Puerto Rico had been on the brink of an economic collapse and the succession of Irma and Maria only intensified the situation. After Irma, Puerto Rico declared a state of emergency and aid was allocated. Irma did not directly strike the island, so much of the faltering infrastructure was spared. However, Maria was not as merciful. Maria made landfall two weeks after Irma and crippled the power grid.

On average, Puerto Rico’s electrical stations are over 40 years old. The power authority had accumulated $9 billion in debt and declared bankruptcy prior to Maria. The island’s inhabitants were left without power during Maria. Even now, much of the island is still without electricity. Not only does this cut communication with the island, it cuts access to clean water. Most of the water pumps were connected to the same power grid that went down.

President Trump bragged about how Texas and Florida made strides in the aftermath of their respective storms while Puerto Rico was struggling. It took longer than it should have for Trump to temporarily lift the Jones Act for aid to reach them promptly. The Jones Act is a piece of legislation that requires that any ship carrying commercial cargo from one port to another within the U.S. must be an American-made ship, owned and crewed by U.S. citizens.

After seeing the island in financial struggle, loan firms that Puerto Rico owed money to generally kept quiet. A few banks offered to waive certain fees for customers. Prepa Bondholders saw an opportunity for financial gain and offered the indebted island a chance to accure even more debt–aid in the form of a loan. The government of Puerto Rico rejected the offer, but it’s still worth highlighting the repulsive act of the financial group when people’s well beings were at risk.

In either case, both political figures and companies show that they will try to put their interests before the lives of others. Abbott exemplified what’s wrong with a conservative government and how it affects people who have lost their homes to natural disasters. Trump and Prepa Bondholders showed how little respect they have for an island of American citizens. Offering aid in the form of a loan, knowing that they are already in a debt crisis, is tantamount to spitting in their face.

Even though they may no longer be in the news, people are still suffering. Many suffer without homes; many without electricity. The incompetent government we currently have isn’t going to provide all the assistance needed. People should consider donating if it is within their means.

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