Living in Florida and having spent most of my life between Florida and Puerto Rico, I am no stranger to hurricanes. In the last few years, I’d venture to say I have become somewhat of an expert in dealing with the aftermath of these natural disasters.
I remember growing up and being super excited about hurricane parties and days off from school. When Hurricane Charley hit, I spent three days off school with the power out, while my friends and family in Hialeah played card games and cooked rice and beans on little propane camping stoves. At the time, I was blissfully unaware that we had it good, and that as I ate the same food for three days in a row stuck in a flood zone, I was at least safe and had everything I needed.
Hurricanes became serious for me when Hurricane Irma was about to hit. I remember seeing news footage that it had just hit Houston and for the first time feeling on edge about what could happen. Living deep in South Tampa, I had to evacuate in Spring Hill where my family and I restlessly watched the news to see if we would have homes to come back to after the storm. Irma shifted last minute, sparing us but causing devastation to many parts of Northern Florida. We thought the worst had passed.
Two weeks later, Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico. If you know anything about Puerto Ricans, we all have someone back on the island. And for weeks, many of us were unable to contact family members or friends to know what the situation was. Images like these started being shared all over the internet and in the news. I remember not being able to get a hold of my grandmother for days and then seeing her house on the news and footage of her town and the streets I used to play on as a kid.
Krizia Lopez, the Communications Manager for Chispa Florida, shares her experience of moving from Puerto Rico to Florida after Hurricane Maria, “As a Boricua in the Diaspora who came here displaced by Hurricane Maria, every Hurricane Season is a trauma. First, because of our experiences through years with different hurricanes, and second because now I’m here without my family working every day to thrive and have a good life at the cost of knowing that my family on the Island is not safe because of the climate change and the government system.”
Krizia and my stories are not uncommon and will continue to become more common if we do not take action and hold our elected officials responsible to build life-saving infrastructure and develop better disaster relief responses. As two Puerto Rican women living in Florida, we have both seen first-hand the need for reliable energy in times of environmental crisis. Hurricanes will continue to happen and are natural, but developing and sustaining consistent, year-round measures to respond quickly and efficiently after natural disasters is integral to the health of Florida in the years to come.
“The power system in Puerto Rico is null on a regular day, and now after Fiona, thousands of people are still without electricity, and some of them without water. My people are desperate, just trying to survive, worried that this could end up like Maria, long months without power, and trying to live like this is something normal.”, Krizia says, and the sentiment is echoed in Florida, where many still are impacted by flooding and unreliable power in the wake of Hurricane Ian.
“Here in Central Florida, where I live now, low-income communities of people of color in Kissimmee were flooded, and they were forgotten by local and state authorities. The help and resources to them were provided by local community organizations who organized to give them dignity, food, and also hope that from now on, they were not alone.”
As large hurricanes become more frequent in the state, it is the responsibility of our elected officials to have consistent, reliable plans for storm resiliency. In the state most impacted by the effects of hurricanes, we need leaders on the side of all people.