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Hurricanes: Before and After

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It’s always strange to approach a location by air that has recently been devastated by a powerful hurricane. From afar, it doesn’t seem like there has been a big impact as the faint outline of buildings, hills and vegetation seem somewhat normal. As you get closer to areas that received a direct impact the first thing that strikes you is the color of the vegetation – it’s no longer a deep green, but things appear more brown than they should. Buildings are still there, but the outlines are not what you would expect. Even closer still and things are just brown, the trees that are standing are left bare of any leaves and the rest are like match sticks on the ground. What appeared to be a dense grouping of structures is actually a mix of materials from some buildings that are still standing and others that are not. Roofs are missing, cars are overturned, and debris has been distributed everywhere. You quickly realize things are not at all what you thought a few minutes and kilometers back…

In the past couple of months several major hurricanes have wreaked havoc in the Caribbean, not to mention the others that made landfall on the mainland US. I had the opportunity to travel to two separate places after they were hit by Category 5 hurricanes, both of which I had been to only a month or two previously. I had visited Dominica in July for another potential project regarding preparedness and resilience to disasters. When I returned back after hurricane Maria it was not the same place I had only recently had the pleasure of discovering. The same could be said for Puerto Rico – I had traveled through there on my way to support the other islands after hurricane Irma, but after Maria things had changed drastically for the people living there as well.

It brings into perspective how quickly things can change for those hit by disasters. One week life is “normal” and you are going on with your daily tasks, then the next you are desperate for clean water, food and protection from the elements. Many of us will never have to live through this, and we should really appreciate how lucky we are. For those that have had their lives shattered, we can only imagine what they go through for the days, weeks and sometimes years after events like these recent hurricanes.

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There are many things that we take for granted that can quickly disrupt “normal” life when they are taken away. We all rely on technology more now than ever, but most don’t really understand what must be in place to make these things work. Without power or connectivity a big part of our daily lives would come to a sudden stop, and we would likely feel lost and alone. Helping bring connectivity back to those that have lost everything may seem like a lesser priority than water and shelter, but bringing back a sense of normal and allowing people to connect with family, friends and those there to help them is no small task and the impact should not be underestimated. Sometimes volunteers ask me if we have made a difference to those affected by disasters, and I assure them that we have both directly and indirectly by restoring the ability to communicate. Rebuilding structures and roads will take time, but getting the ability to send and receive information – getting a voice back quickly – can make everything else more manageable.

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