Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria disaster

This 7 June 2019 video from the USA says about itself:

Puerto Rico to Receive New Disaster Relief, but Colonial Status Prevents Economic Recovery

Congress passed a new disaster relief bill, to provide Puerto Rico an additional $1.4 billion. But colonial status, a financial oversight board with conflict of interest, and unfavorable laws ensure that the island remains mired in poverty.


Puerto Rican children’s mental health after Maria

This video says about itself:

Hurricane Maria video from El Conquistador Hotel in Fajardo, Puerto Rico

Never seen before video (17min) released one year later from the El Conquistador Hotel located high up on the cliff side in Fajardo, Puerto Rico as Hurricane Maria pounds the island with devastating wind gusts! Video copyright Mike Theiss.

From the Medical University of South Carolina in the USA:

Psychologists release results of survey of ‘Maria generation’ kids

April 30, 2019

Psychologists from the Medical University of South Carolina have just published one of the largest post-disaster screening projects in U.S. history. The report, available online through JAMA Network Open, measured the magnitude of Hurricane Maria‘s impact on the mental health of children in Puerto Rico.

Rosaura Orengo-Aguayo, an assistant professor at MUSC in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, grew up in Puerto Rico and led the study. “More than seven percent of youth, 6,900 of the children surveyed by the Puerto Rico Department of Education, reported clinically significant symptoms of PTSD,” she said.

Post-traumatic stress disorder can develop after a traumatic event, such as a natural disaster, affecting their ability to cope with everyday life. PTSD can cause nightmares, flashbacks, the feeling of being always on guard, trouble sleeping and an inability to remember parts of the traumatic event.

Other key findings of the survey, in which more than 96,000 third through 12th graders took part:

  • More than 80% saw houses damaged on an island roughly the size of Connecticut.
  • About 45% had damage to their own home.
  • Almost 58% had a friend or family member leave Puerto Rico.
  • About a third had to deal with a lack of food or water.
  • More than 15% still didn’t have electricity several months after the September 2017 storm.

Orengo-Aguayo said the survey also found that more than 6,000 children reported a family member, friend or neighbor may have died as a result of the storm. “What students reported aligns with an article in the New England Journal of Medicine on mortality rates after Hurricane Maria.” That article, by researchers at the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public Health, estimated there were about 4,600 deaths related to the storm. The government of Puerto Rico puts the death toll at about 3,000 people.

While more than 7% of the children surveyed had PTSD symptoms, that’s actually lower than anticipated. Regan Stewart, an assistant professor in MUSC’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, is part of the research team. “I expected it to be higher, based on other studies that have been done in the mainland U.S. in which rates are somewhere between 13 and 30%.”

Why would the PTSD rate be lower among the children surveyed in Puerto Rico than their mainland counterparts surveyed after other disasters? Stewart said one potential protective factor may be a concept called “familismo” in Spanish. “It’s the importance of family and community. Puerto Ricans place a high value on these social connections. We know from the literature that social support may be a protective factor after a traumatic event.”

The PTSD rate might also have to do with the timing of when the Puerto Rico Department of Education conducted the survey, she said. “Most surveys have been done at the six to 12-month mark, given all it takes to get this funded and done. In this case, the department administered the surveys at five to nine months, which is sooner. Many of the students were still dealing with losses of basic necessities-food, electricity. Their focus could still be on getting these basic needs met and mental health difficulties may have developed later at the six to 12-month mark, which was not captured in this survey.”

Orengo-Aguayo, Stewart and another bilingual MUSC mental health expert, Michael de Arellano, have been part of the effort to help schoolchildren in the aftermath of Maria almost from the beginning.

Soon after the storm, a friend in Puerto Rico told Orengo-Aguayo that the education secretary was looking for people who could come up with a comprehensive plan to help teachers and students deal with Maria’s aftermath. Schools were closed, utilities were out and loved ones were leaving.

Orengo-Aguayo and her colleagues at MUSC, along with a psychology intern from Puerto Rico, sprang into action. They realized they could use a grant they already had from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration and the National Child Traumatic Stress Network to fund the work in Puerto Rico.

They’ve worked with the Puerto Rico Department of Education to train teachers in how to take care of their own mental health while also caring for the kids who weathered the storm.

Since their first visit in October of 2017, the MUSC psychologists have been back multiple times to continue their work. They emphasize the importance of asking what people need instead of telling Puerto Ricans what to do. They’ve also worked closely with Joy Lynn Suarez-Kindy, a clinical psychologist who lives there, to strategize and analyze what is needed.

Orengo-Aguayo said the survey shows a few things in addition to data. One, more funding is needed to pay for mental health services in Puerto Rico. Two, the island needs better ways to reach people in rural areas that don’t have mental health providers around. Telehealth, which uses technology to connect patients with experts, is one possibility being explored. Three, all storm-prone areas should try to assess what mental health resources they have before a future disaster occurs, not after.

She also wants to make sure people on the mainland U.S. don’t forget about their fellow citizens in Puerto Rico, including children. “Puerto Rican youth experienced significant disaster exposure and reported trauma symptoms that warrant evidence-based services. Academics partnering with community stakeholders is the way to go to change the world one child at a time. That is our lab’s motto.”

Puerto Rico’s climate change Hurricane Maria

This 29 September 2017 video is called Hurricane MARIA Devastates Humacao, Puerto Rico.

From the American Geophysical Union:

Climate change to blame for Hurricane Maria‘s extreme rainfall

April 16, 2019

Hurricane Maria dropped more rain on Puerto Rico than any storm to hit the island since 1956, a feat due mostly to the effects of human-caused climate warming, new research finds.

A new study analyzing Puerto Rico’s hurricane history finds 2017’s Maria had the highest average rainfall of the 129 storms to have struck the island in the past 60 years. A storm of Maria’s magnitude is nearly five times more likely to form now than during the 1950s, an increase due largely to the effects of human-induced warming, according to the study’s authors.

“What we found was that Maria’s magnitude of peak precipitation is much more likely in the climate of 2017 when it happened versus the beginning of the record in 1950,” said David Keellings, a geographer at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and lead author of the new study in AGU’s journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Previous studies have attributed Hurricane Harvey‘s record rainfall to climate change, but no one had yet looked in depth at rainfall from Maria, which struck Puerto Rico less than a month after Harvey devastated Houston and the Gulf Coast. Extreme rainfall during both storms caused unprecedented flooding that placed them among the top three costliest hurricanes on record (the other being Hurricane Katrina in 2005).

The new study adds to the growing body of evidence that human-caused warming is making extreme weather events like these more common, according to the authors.

“Some things that are changing over the long-term are associated with climate change — like the atmosphere getting warmer, sea surface temperatures increasing, and more moisture being available in the atmosphere — together they make something like Maria more likely in terms of its magnitude of precipitation,” Keellings said.

Constructing a history of rain

José Javier Hernández Ayala, a climate researcher at Sonoma State University in California and co-author of the new study, is originally from Puerto Rico and his family was directly impacted by Hurricane Maria. After the storm, Hernández Ayala decided to team up with Keellings to see how unusual Maria was compared to previous storms that have struck the island.

The researchers analyzed rainfall from the 129 hurricanes that have struck Puerto Rico since 1956, the earliest year with records they could rely on. They found Hurricane Maria produced the largest maximum daily rainfall of those 129 storms: a whopping 1,029 millimeters (41 inches) of rain. That places Maria among the top 10 wettest hurricanes to ever have hit United States territory.

“Maria is more extreme in its precipitation than anything else that the island has ever seen,” Keellings said. “I just didn’t expect that it was going to be so much more than anything else that’s happened in the last 60 years.”

Keellings and Hernández Ayala also wanted to know whether Maria’s extreme rain was a result of natural climate variability or longer-term trends like human-induced warming. To do so, they analyzed the likelihood of an event like Maria happening in the 1950s versus today.

They found an extreme event like Maria was 4.85 times more likely to happen in the climate of 2017 than in 1956, and that change in all probability can’t be explained by natural climate cycles.

At the beginning of the observational record in the 1950s, a storm like Maria was likely to drop that much rain once every 300 years. But in 2017, that likelihood dropped to about once every 100 years, according to the study.

“Due to anthropogenic climate change it is now much more likely that we get these hurricanes that drop huge amounts of precipitation,” Keellings said.

The findings show human influence on hurricane precipitation has already started to become evident, according to Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, who was not connected to the new study. Because so much of Maria’s damage was due to flooding from the extreme amount of rain, it is safe to say that part of those damages were exacerbated by climate change, Wehner said.

“Extreme precipitation during tropical cyclones has been increased by climate change,” he said. “Not all storms have a large amount of inland flooding, of freshwater flooding. But of those that do, the floods are increased to some extent by climate change.”