Chasing storms from San Juan to New Orleans

Clara Tomé, Contributing Columnist

Puerto Rican student Clara Tomé explores the impact of hurricanes on her identity. (Cecilia Hammond)

Last year, my friend told me she felt that hurricanes follow me. While I laughed at that, I now find myself reflecting on how hurricanes have impacted my life. 

I was born and still live in Puerto Rico, which is definitely my most important identity. I often find a way to mention that to people, whether through a joke, the culture or any experience I have had growing up. I love Puerto Rico, and I love being Puerto Rican. 

It was during Hurricane Maria on Sept. 20, 2017 that I felt like I was truly alone in this world. I experienced that same feeling when I stayed in New Orleans for Hurricane Ida. I fully cannot say which one was stronger and worse. They were both hurricanes that whistled loudly all day and literally made the house I was in shake. 

I spent 73 days without power after Hurricane Maria, two weeks without cell service and one month out of school. I saw the same Federal Emergency Management Agency trucks that reached Puerto Rico after a month enter Louisiana the day after the storm.

I was thankful to be in a safe position during Maria. My house had a generator; my family had nonperishable food, water bottles, portable chargers and gas powered stoves used for camping. But, the worst part was the uncertainty, simply feeling like everywhere else in the world was moving on with their lives. 

The day before, the picture of Hurricane Maria approaching the island circled the globe. After a couple shares on social media platforms broadcasting “Pray for Puerto Rico,” people moved on with their lives. I could not. In a way, I felt this same way after Hurricane Ida. People checking in the days before, sharing pictures and donation links the day after and then moving on with their lives. Although, New Orleans saw a much faster recovery, that does not mean we should forget about the rest of Louisiana. 

On this Hispanic Heritage Month, I have been reflecting on how my life has been shaped from one powerful storm to another. Particularly, I have been thinking about how different natural disaster responses are here in comparison to Puerto Rico. My heart goes out to all those communities, especially those in my Caribbean and Latine neighboring countries, that do not receive the coverage and support they deserve when these storms hit. I hate to think that this will not be the last storm that affects my two homes, but that is today’s unfortunate reality. There are many similarities and differences between Hurricane Ida and Hurricane Maria. 

My heart particularly goes out to Puerto Rico each hurricane season. Puerto Rico ships the majority of its food, which is already more expensive and takes longer to arrive because of the Jones Act. As an island, we do not have the same benefit states have of driving over supplies. Puerto Rico is my home, and I feel a natural connection to the island, so it would break my heart to have to leave in the future because of more frequent hurricanes. 

Puerto Rico is more vulnerable to hurricanes now than the island was four years ago. I hope that if another storm hits Puerto Rico, and let us hope that it does not, that our emergency response is much more prepared. Most importantly, I hope that the world does not forget about us.