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Hurricane Maria

‘The People of Puerto Rico are Dying’ Say 50 Nurses Returning from Hurricane-Ravaged Puerto Rico

By Martha Wallner and Kari Jones - Common Dreams, October 18, 2011

WASHINGTON - A large delegation of 50 volunteer registered nurses from across the U.S. returns this week from Puerto Rico after a two-week disaster relief effort in the wake of Hurricane Maria, describing an ineffective federal response that has led to deadly conditions including extreme lack of food, water and medicine; people living in houses infested with black mold; and water-borne illnesses such as leptospirosis that are already claiming lives.

“The people over here in Puerto Rico are dying. We have a healthcare crisis right now,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president and Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) volunteer Cathy Kennedy, RN. “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water — we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

The returning nurses are part of the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN), a disaster relief program sponsored by National Nurses United, and are among 300 union members the AFL-CIO organized for the relief mission to Puerto Rico.

For interviews with RNs who have returned from the two-week mission please call: 510-433-2759 or 510-273-2264.

The RN volunteers were shocked at the perilous conditions residents were enduring a full three weeks after Hurricane Maria. From the outskirts of San Juan to isolated mountain towns, they encountered many residents had yet to be assisted by the U.S. government's relief effort. Many were staying in houses that had been destroyed by the hurricane, flooded, roofless, cut off from electricity, food and clean water. Residents often told the nurses they were the first people offering them assistance. In addition to providing medical care, the RNs instructed residents on how to decontaminate their water and remove black mold from their homes. They also visited community radio stations where they provided health tips and water decontamination instructions on the air.

"These communities are at great risk of water borne illness epidemics. They need clean water that is safe to drink," said Erin Carrera, RN UC San Francisco. "It is outrageous that we are leaving our fellow Americans with essentially no aid. Many more will die if we don't step up."

Nurse testimonies include:

“Today our team traveled into the center of island into the mountain towns of Utuado. These towns are so isolated that relief efforts have not made it into these areas. It was due to impassable roads. But the local community cleared most of the roads. People said we were the first relief group to come into the area … They’re struggling to get basics such as food, water and medicine.” — Roxanna Garcia, RN

“We couldn’t believe this is part of the United States. We did home visits in a low-income community with the public health liaisons who identify those in need and help them do basic blood pressure checks, blood sugar checks, refill their meds, etc. They have already had chronic diseases going on and now their environment is full of hazardous materials and sanitation is so poor.” — Hau  Yau, RN

“What our nurses witnessed daily is the harsh reality of a woefully inadequate government response and the brutal, inhumane impact on the Puerto Rican people. The Trump Administration, FEMA, and Congress must act immediately,” said Bonnie Castillo, RN, director of NNU’s RNRN program.

On October 11, National Nurses United sent a letter to all members of Congress pressing them to “take immediate action to prevent a further public health calamity in Puerto Rico”.

“The response to the crisis in Puerto Rico from the U.S. federal government has been unacceptable for the wealthiest country in the world,” wrote NNU RN Co-Presidents Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, citing eyewitness accounts by RNs on the ground, and the ongoing crisis of lack of water, food, and other emergencies faced by the island’s 3.5 million residents.

NNU is calling on the federal government to  supply greater technological and logistics support to Puerto Rico, immediately provide generators for hospitals and other essential infrastructure, install temporary telecommunications connections in remote areas, and deploy boots on the ground to help clear roads and deliver humanitarian aid. NNU has also called on the federal government to grant all Puerto Ricans immediate eligibility for Medicaid to insure that residents there receive the care they need in the midst of this public health crisis.

RNRN has more than 12 years of experience in providing disaster medical aid following global emergencies dating back to Hurricane Katrina and the deadly South Asia tsunami. Most recently, RNRN volunteers worked in a convention center in Houston and other locales in South Texas after Hurricane Harvey.

Puerto Rico's disaster was years in the making

By Brian Sullivan - Socialist Worker, October 18, 2011

ON THE morning of September 29, a 78-year-old retiree named Luis Alberto Ruiz Irizarry, overcome by the despair that has enveloped Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria, tried to hang himself in his Caguas backyard.

His daughter found him hanging from a tree behind their home, but with over 70 percent of cell towers down across the island, she couldn't call an ambulance for help. Neighbors helped her pull his body down and rushed him to the local hospital in their own jeep, while his wife pumped his chest in the back seat.

They were lucky that the hospital was among the half on the island that were still open at the time, but it, too, was teetering on the brink. Running dangerously low on water and fuel for its backup generators, hospitals were strictly rationing the use of essential equipment such as dialysis machines, much less air conditioners.

As a result, in the stiflingly hot weeks since Hurricane Maria made landfall, temperatures in hospitals reached unsafe levels. Doctors and nurses have been warning that unless something changes, disaster is imminent.

How did we get to this point? How could Puerto Rico, a territory of the world's richest country, be so vulnerable to the destruction of Hurricane Maria, and so unequipped to deal with the crisis in the aftermath?

At the root of the current crisis is the debt that has been suffocating the island for years, a debt that has roots in Puerto Rico's history as a disenfranchised colony of the United States.

'The People of Puerto Rico Are Dying': Action Is Needed Now

By Bonnie Castillo - Common Dreams, October 16, 2011

Crowd funding. A Costco Card. The water in a nurse’s own backpack. These are the resources to which volunteer nurses on the ground in Puerto Rico—where 85 percent of the island is still without power and where the official death toll has risen to 48 (with the real toll expected to rise much higher)—have been forced to turn in recent weeks, to keep hurricane victims alive, even for a few additional days.

“The people over here in Puerto Rico are dying. We have a healthcare crisis right now,” said National Nurses United (NNU) vice president and Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN) volunteer Cathy Kennedy, RN. “Nurses have been going out into communities, where all they ask for is water and food. And when you have to make a decision of who’s going to get the food today or the water—we shouldn’t have to do that. The United States is the richest country in the world; Puerto Rico is part of the United States.”

“There’s no power, there’s no clean water, many hospitals are closed, there’s no access to healthcare,” said Cyndi Evans, RN, also a volunteer with the Registered Nurse Response Network (RNRN)—a disaster relief project of NNU. “One of the nurses did a Go Fund Me page, and her team found a Costco where ATMs had come back online. That team took $3000 worth of goods to communities who hadn’t received any aid at all … I’m furious. [The people of Puerto Rico] are going to die.”

While the Trump administration has declared that the island territory of U.S. citizens “can’t be helped forever,” nurses like Kennedy and Evans are reporting back a horrifying reality: Meaningful federal relief for hurricane-decimated Puerto Rico has not yet arrived at all. Not by a long shot.

Puerto Rico, Elon Musk, and the Difference Between Environmentalism and Environmental Justice

By Courtney Parker - Intercontinental Cry, October 9, 2017

One more time for those in the back…but perhaps especially for those on the frontlines…there is a difference between environmentalism and environmental justice.

‘Environmentalism’ is a crucial ethos that has enjoyed a vital quickening in mainstream consciousness over the past decade or so, worldwide.

‘Environmental justice’ is an important layer to this burgeoning mass consciousness; and without it, environmentalism alone can harbor some latent flaws.

A crucial example of how environmentalism can be co-opted to promote certain causes or activities, at the expense of environmental justice, is uranium mining on Navajo land.

There are hosts of credible, well-meaning, scientifically minded people who support nuclear energy as a ‘clean energy alternative’ to coal and fossil fuels.

Yet, the uranium needed for that ‘alternative’ has to come from somewhere—and, the mining of it is anything but ‘clean’.

In the case of this radioactive ore, what is ‘clean energy’ for some, is unpotable water for others—namely, in the example cited above, the Dine.

‘Big Decision’: Will the US Spend What It Takes to Save Puerto Rico?

Brent Gregston - Who, What, Why, October 9, 2011

Will President Donald Trump, the self-styled “great builder,” authorize enough federal aid to rebuild Puerto Rico? Will Congress alleviate its crushing debt?

To prevent a mass exodus of Puerto Ricans, the Trump White House and Republican-controlled Congress will have to act fast.

Over two weeks after Hurricane Maria’s landfall on September 20, most of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million people were still without power, potable water and telecommunications. Many have no jobs to go back to, since their businesses were destroyed. The government expects to run out of money by October 31, terminating its hurricane recovery effort.

The island’s young governor, Ricardo Rosselló, says Maria is the biggest catastrophe in the history of Puerto Rico. He hopes Puerto Ricans will be “treated equally,” despite its neo-colonial status as a US territory. Puerto Ricans were granted US citizenship 100 years ago, but have remained trapped in political limbo. They cannot vote for US president and have no voting representative in US Congress. Almost half of all Americans don’t know that Puerto Ricans are US citizens.

When Maria hit, Puerto Rico was already devastated by economic recession and bankruptcy, as well as a political and legal battle over who governs the island. Puerto Ricans were already migrating to the US mainland in record numbers.

The governor is panicking, worried that US Congress will deliver too little help, too late. “You’re not going to get hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans moving to the states, you’re going to get millions,” he said at a news conference hours ahead of Trump’s visit.

“There is going to be a big population loss out of this tragedy. As soon as travel resumes and is back to normal, there will be an exodus of families and individuals from the island. It’s inevitable,” said Héctor Figueroa, a native of Puerto Rico and president of the Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

After Hurricane Katrina, the population of New Orleans fell by 50% and has not recovered 12 years later.

Florida International University professor Jorge Duany notes that, even before Maria, Puerto Rico was in a “demographic crisis” because of migration — with a population decline of 9% since 2000. He expects it to accelerate “unless something miraculous happens in terms of recovery,” with much of the exodus “focused on Florida.”

The political implications of this demographic shift have led to intense speculation about how many Puerto Ricans will move to Florida — and register to vote. Their arrival could see it move from being a swing state to a Democratic one.

Puerto Rico: Building A Future Based On Mutual Aid

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, October 14, 2017

We drove through neighborhoods in the mountains with local residents and our comrades from Guaynabo, delivered food, cases of water, water purification tablets, and provided health care to elderly residents and their families sweltering in damaged homes, surrounded by narrow, perilous roads with no power and waning supplies. We are sharing our time, access to resources, knowledge, skills and quickly beating hearts to contribute to people’s survival and self-determination. It is all part of horizontal, participatory, solidarity-based, liberatory mutual aid disaster relief.

Mutual aid, itself, has been here since before Hurricane Maria and embodied by self-organized groups like Sonadora En Acción and Proyecto de Apoyo Mutuo Mariana. Larger, but also grassroots organizations like Taller Salud and Crowdrescuehq are also spearheading people-powered relief efforts. As wildfires blaze to the west, people in Mexico are still digging out rubble from the earthquake, Houston residents are still cleaning up flooded homes, and people impacted by Irma remain houseless in Florida, we know there is a long road ahead. This is to say nothing of the centuries old disasters of colonization.

On-the-Ground Reports Destroy Trump's Sunny Portrayal of Puerto Rico Recovery

Julia Conley - Common Dreams, October 11, 2017

The White House's rosy portrayal of Puerto Rico's recovery contrasts with the grim details relief workers are sharing about the reality on the ground.

According to numerous accounts of the recovery and a website set up by the Puerto Rican government, there is still a dire food and water shortage on the island. Only about ten percent of the island has electricity, and only a third of cell phone towers are in working order.

Yet in a White House's video posted on Twitter this week, Trump was shown shaking hands with hurricane survivors while triumphant music played and footage and on-screen text assured viewers that generator fuel is being delivered to hospitals, roads are quickly being cleared, and water is rapidly being brought to families in need. In both tweets and repeated public statements over recent days, Trump has shown he is far more concerned with garnering praise for his response to the disaster than with addressing the struggles Puerto Ricans continue to face.

On Tuesday, National Nurses United shared some of what the group's 50 volunteer nurses have observed—noting that 21 days after Maria swept through the U.S. territory, many federal workers on the island are still assessing damage rather than handing out supplies.

Nurses Demand Congress Act to Avert Further Public Health Calamity in Puerto Rico

By Charles Idelson - Common Dreams, October 11, 2017

WASHINGTON - In a letter to all members of Congress today, National Nurses United, whose disaster relief organization has placed 50 volunteer RNs on the ground in Puerto Rico, is pressing Congress to “take immediate action to prevent a further public health calamity in Puerto Rico”.

“The response to the crisis in Puerto Rico from the U.S. federal government has been unacceptable for the wealthiest country in the world,” wrote NNU RN Co-Presidents Deborah Burger and Jean Ross, citing eyewitness accounts by RNs on the ground, and the ongoing crisis of lack of water, food, and other emergencies faced by the island’s 3.5 million residents.

Among conditions our RNs witness, NNU notes, are:

  • People standing in line for hours in blistering heat waiting for desperately needed water and food, only to finally see federal disaster officials bringing paperwork “to collect data” rather than supplying critical supplies.
  • Residents continuing to live in houses with roofs blown off and soaked interiors where there is dangerous black mold growing that creates respiratory distress and illness.
  • Major areas away from urban centers where residents still have received no provisions, have no running water and no electricity.
  • A breakout of leptospirosis, a dangerous bacterial disease that has already claimed lives.
  • Numerous communities without clean water that are at risk of the outbreak of water-borne illness epidemics. 
  • Further, NNU notes a glaring disparity between the federal response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and the response to Hurricanes Harvey and Irma in Texas and Florida.  “The people of Puerto Rico are counting on your leadership to survive,” wrote Burger and Ross.

After The Storm, It’s Labor vs. Finance for the Future of Puerto Rico

By Richard Eskow - Common Dreams, October 13, 2017

Two opposing forces are fighting to reshape Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Wall Street, which has been plundering the island for years, is trying to tighten its grip on the island. Meanwhile, organized labor is working to rebuild the island  – and to rebuild its own ranks in the process.

As our video reporting from Puerto Rico emphasizes, this confrontation reflects an ongoing battle for the future of the country. In one sense, Puerto Rico is the rest of the nation in extremis. Financial institutions have obtained a growing stranglehold over the island’s economy and manipulated politicians from both parties into prioritizing bank repayments over public need. The hungry have gone unfed, the sick have gone untreated, and needed infrastructure has gone unbuilt to meet the financial industry’s rapacious demands.

The financial industry had held the upper hand in Puerto Rico for years. It has lent money to the island’s financially troubled government at usurious terms, profited from the buying and selling of its debt while lobbying Washington to make sure the notes they hold takes priority over the public’s needs. Wall Street has encouraged the kind of predatory speculation that doesn’t just bet against the people of Puerto Rico, but rigs the game to make sure they lose.

Resistance is Disaster Relief

By Mutual Aid Disaster Relief - It's Going Down, October 10, 2017

On this day, we must remember that for some communities, disasters have been unfolding for centuries, depriving people of life and liberty every single day.

Indigenous peoples in the Americas have been attacked and oppressed for over 500 years.  This continues today.  Every day.  Indigenous communities in the United States have exceptionally high rates of poverty, unemployment, food insecurity, infant mortality, teen suicide, high school drop-outs, homelessness, alcohol and drug abuse, diabetes and other preventable diseases, incarceration, and violent crimes committed against them – in some instances the statistics are multiple times more than any other communities.

And today, in cities all over the United States, parades are held to celebrate the man who initiated this age of terror.  Columbus Day is a celebration of genocide.  Christopher Columbus remarked, upon meeting the Taino peoples of so-called Hispaniola (now known as Haiti & Dominican Republic), that “they are artless and generous with what they have… Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.”  Columbus was a different sort, however; based on this observation he concluded that “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”

On his return trips, that is exactly what he did.  He proclaimed the following: “I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can, and shall subject you to the yoke and obedience of the Church and of their highnesses; we shall take you, and your wives, and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them as their highnesses may command; and we shall take away your goods, and shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord, and resist and contradict him; and we protest that the deaths and losses which shall accrue from this are your fault, and not that of their highnesses, or ours, nor of these cavaliers who come with us.”  The Taino could not understand a word of this, and did not adequately resist the tyrants who demanded that each person over 14 extract a daily quantity of gold.  If they did not bring enough, their hands were chopped off; slaves who tried to escape were burned alive.

Why do we celebrate this man?

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