Puerto Rico: “Like Living in a War Zone”

Telsa Power restores power at a children’s hospital

Greenville  Hurricane Irma hit Puerto Rico more than one-month ago. Few have missed the reports of devastation on the island and the continuing deprivation of its people. The majority of the island still lacks access to clean water and electricity.

We have a many connections to the pain and problems of the island. Willie Cosme introduced Spanish language programming to the Arkansas radio market more than 28 years ago on our 100,000 watt noncommercial station, KABF-FM, and has done a show continually since that time, specializing in salsa. He did a stint as station manager before throwing up his hands, and was always a fixture around the studio, specializing as a problem solver of issues large and small. By the time I was drafted in as station manager four years ago, Willie had retired from state employment. I even recruited him for a bit with Local 100 as a navigator in the early days of the Affordable Care Act. A bit more than a year ago, Willie relocated to Puerto Rico, his native island. His mother was up in age. His sister was still there. His daughters were grown in the Arkansas and Missouri. He was needed at home.

Willie was working with me to program the stations we support in New Orleans, Little Rock, and Greenville. Modern communication and the internet are amazing things. We were within days of putting the ACORN International internet station on the air at www.acornradio.org when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, and the world went upside down on Willie. We stalked him on Facebook until one of our searchers found a picture of him on his daughter’s page. I got my first text from him only days ago when he had driven to a higher piece of ground miles away from his home for a brief signal. Asking him what it was like, he could only reply that it was “like living in a war zone.” He and his family are getting water by collecting it from rain barrels he has set up. There is no power. He lives a mile or so outside of Corozal which is less than 30 miles from San Juan. Lines for gas are endless, when they can find it. He says there are now traffic jams in front of his house, because it takes so much time to get to town and the condition of the roads has changed so dramatically. There are some restaurants open finally so often they buy food there, because it is safer, even though more expensive. When will it be better, I asked? He answered, “it could be months.”

People at the radio station and around ACORN land who know Willie are trying to put together support for him and his family. Little things like solar lamps and so forth. Mail is getting to him he says, but other deliveries, like Amazon are hesitating to guarantee delivery. He’s stuck. He says he’s lucky, so if this is good luck, think for a minute about the rest of the island and the situation of its people. [Send donations for Puerto Rico and Willie to KABF 2101 South Main Little Rock 72206]

President Trump rates the government’s performance a “10.” He must mean 10 out of 100, I guess. We had friends with us from Hawaii recently for several days. They told us that everyone on the islands was watching the Puerto Rico closely, because they were wondering what would happen to their island state if, and when, they are hit by a monsoon and tsunami.

Think about it. Puerto Rico is the Katrina we can’t see because it’s not close at hand. We have to do better, both now and in the future.


Quick Reopening of Schools is Key to Recovery if You Care about Your People

New Orleans   The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has 287 schools. There are 20 school districts in Harris County. Our union represents school workers. We were on the phones with anyone we knew last week in Houston, calling our members to assess their situation and offer assistance in filling out FEMA forms or anything else they might need. We were also talking to managers up and down the district about the reopening, the number of schools that would be involved, and how workers would be deployed. At one point it looked like only a few more than 30 would be unable to open two weeks after the storm and at other times as many as 80. The final number on opening day seems in the mid-50 range, but the key accomplishment in Houston, and a huge lesson learned from Katrina, was that school in fact did open, come hell or high water.

After Katrina the tragic error made by everyone connected to the New Orleans school system started with the decision to keep schools closed. Obviously the storm was worse and schools were damaged, but blowing off the school year created irreversible harm, that the city has not recovered from after a dozen years. Families with school age children, often traumatized by the storm and unable to find housing and often with jobs in jeopardy as well, were forced to stay where they were sheltered or evacuated, find housing, enroll school age children in school, and find jobs, making it hard to return and hard to work to recover in New Orleans.

In Houston, school employees were retained and in fact were guaranteed wages for the weeks they were out of school. In New Orleans more than 5000 teachers and other personnel were fired. In Houston workers in shuttered schools are being deployed elsewhere in order to be maintained. In New Orleans senior workers were not only not retained, but were also forced to face discrimination and barriers in reapplying. In Houston the emphasis has been retaining people and gaining stability. In New Orleans the leadership decision, influenced by federal policy and incentives, was to reorder and replace people. In Houston there is determination to recover. In New Orleans there was an effort to achieve something similar to ethnic cleansing by whitening the population. Houston will retain its people. New Orleans is still 80,000 people or more below its 2005 population.

Does it matter? Heck, yes!

Look at just one factor, like the mental health and resilience of children living through such disasters. Here’s a report from the Times:

Unlike an earthquake or a fire, flooding from a storm like Katrina or Harvey leaves many houses and buildings still physically standing but uninhabitable, simultaneously familiar and strange, like a loved one sinking into dementia. Surveys done in the seven years after Katrina found that the rate of diagnosable mental health problems in the New Orleans area jumped 9 percent – a sharper spike than after other natural disasters – and the effects did not discriminate much by race or income.”

There are impacts to public policy decisions. There are tragic outcomes to ideological and governmental initiatives that use entire cities and populations as test tubes and Guinea pigs for disastrous experiments. And, everybody pays, both the intended victims and the bystanders.

Good work, Houston. Another lesson from Katrina learned!


Please enjoy Mavis Staples – If All I Was Was Black.

Thanks to KABF.