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Climate Change Won’t Stop for the Coronavirus Pandemic

Patients were quickly evacuated from Feather River Hospital as it burned during the Camp Fire in Paradise, California, on Nov. 8, 2018. (Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images)

Climate Change Won’t Stop for the Coronavirus Pandemic

The next several months could bring hurricanes, floods and fire, on top of the pandemic currently raging through the country. How do you shelter in place during an evacuation?

SERIES: CORONAVIRUS

Is the United States Prepared for COVID-19?

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Two and a half years ago Hurricane Maria ripped open homes across the southern Puerto Rican city of Ponce, destroying the rickety electrical grid and sending thousands of people into shelters or onto the streets. People were still rebuilding when, in January, a devastating earthquake jolted the island’s southern coast. Afraid of collapsing walls and showering concrete, people moved back outdoors, where they still spend cool, wet nights under blue tarps strung to poles and tied to cars packed with coolers and lawn chairs.

Now thousands brace for a wave of illness as the COVID-19 pandemic spreads insidiously across the island, threatening people without homes, without water, some struggling even to maintain basic hygiene. It’s the latest blow in a diabolical cascade of crises, striking Puerto Ricans at their most vulnerable. When the sickness comes, doctors and nurses will be scarce; the hurricane forced almost half of them to leave the island in search of jobs.

“Everyone is in hell,” said Abel Vale, a retired environmental consultant who lives north of Ponce, “or left forgotten.”

This is how cascading catastrophes can compound in effect, kicked off or made worse by climate change, which promises to amplify the harm and make even unrelated crises more painful.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

A Local Food Revolution in Puerto Rico

A Local Food Revolution in Puerto Rico

"Hurricane Maria made it evident that we need agricultural sovereignty.” Can agroecology help Puerto Rico recover and mitigate future disasters?

Disaster collectivism: How communities rise together to respond to crises

Disaster collectivism: How communities rise together to respond to crises

When Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, 2017, Judith Rodriguez was asleep in her home. Or rather, she was trying to sleep, but the sounds of the deadly storm blowing over the island woke her up.

“That whistle was the ugliest I’ve heard in my life,” Rodriguez said. “A whistle that was never silent. It was endless. … I thought that my house was in good condition, at least I thought that. And as I woke up at 2:30am, I felt scared. The first scare was when the back door went flying off — a metal door in the kitchen.”

Like much of the island, the town of Cayey, where Rodriguez lives, was plunged into darkness for months, as winds reaching 175 mph destroyed power lines and tore roofs off houses. Already in the midst of a crippling debt crisis, and with no immediate relief in sight, communities like Cayey had to make due with the few resources they had.

“In my house I had a lot of plates,” Rodriguez says. “What if I donate my plates that are laying in a corner in my home?” She wasn’t the only one with that idea. In towns and cities all over the island, from Cayey to Caguas and Humacao to Las Marias, something began to stir. Plate donations grew into community kitchens which grew into community centers which grew into a movement. With its furiously whistling winds, Hurricane Maria had awakened something in the Puerto Rican people, something that storms, fires, earthquakes — and all manner of disasters and catastrophes — have awakened in communities all around the world.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Puerto Rico: Hurricane destroyed wind, solar. Plus five months on, 15% still blacked out.

Puerto Rico: Hurricane destroyed wind, solar. Plus five months on, 15% still blacked out.

In South Australia, when the lights went out, Olympic Dam took two entire weeks to get operational again. Spare a thought for those in Puerto Rico. Right now, five months later, and one in 6 still don’t have electricity. That’s five full months of blackout –  surviving off candles, car batteries, small diesels and whatever anyone can get. Some people will be waiting til May. Though that’s “95%” connected, so still no joy or lights, for one in 20 people. How do you put a roof back on your house when you can’t even power up your drill? (See The Atlantics photo montage from January 27th to get some idea of what life is like, months after the storm).

Puerto Rico has 3.6 million people, was poor and corrupt, with failing infrastructure and huge debts before Hurricane Maria hit on Sept 20th. The government has a budget of $10b per year, but owes more than $70b. The hurricane wiped out 80% of the infrastructure, completely trashing some of the solar and wind “farms”, and bringing down transmission lines.

The remains of one solar plant:

Solar Panels, damaged, Puerto Rico, Hurricane Maria.

See the complete destruction here:

Brett Adair with Live Storms Media

One wind farm that survived the hurricane sat idle for weeks because there was no grid running and a wind farm can’t start a grid up (so much for microgrid resilience). Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, or PREPA had oil powered generation plants which were 44 years old on average, and not surprisingly (with no access to coal or nuclear power) the people paid very high electricity rates. Government entities and a few chosen private industries got it for free though.

Puerto Rico, Map.

Puerto Rico in the Caribbean was right in the path.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Puerto Rico Could Turn Disaster into a Decentralized Paradise

How Puerto Rico Could Turn Disaster into a Decentralized Paradise

Could the massive failure of the Puerto Rican government-run energy grid be a blessing in disguise? It has the potential to set Puerto Rico on a course of self-sufficiency and individual empowerment for decades to come.

Many Puerto Ricans are still without power from the large-scale grid failure after Hurricane Maria last fall. Some are not expected to be reconnected to the grid until April or May.

Community Solutions

One of those communities took matters into its own hands and set the local school up with solar panels. Plans to set up rainwater collection and filtration are also in the works. This would make the school entirely off-grid, and a perfect community shelter in the event of other natural disasters.

The Daily Bell recently published an article called 7 Reasons to Shut Down Public Schools Immediately and Permanently. Praising an off-grid public school seems like a contradiction.

But Puerto Rico announced plans to introduce a school voucher program so that students could take a portion of a school’s funding with them and apply it towards another public or private school. Perhaps a school which is off the grid and teaches kids about solar and rainwater systems will flourish. Competition always helps to improve things.

This doesn’t come close to solving all the current problems with mainstream schooling. But the off the grid school couple with school choice can be seen as a decentralization of government, with the community more in control. And that seems like a step in the right direction.

Individual Solutions

Puerto Rican companies in the solar industry had a hard time convincing consumers of the need for solar energy and storage before Hurricane Maria. But now, everyone understands the value of being off the grid. It means you don’t sit around waiting and hoping for the government to come save you. You are in control of your own energy production and use.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

VIDEO: What Everyday Life Is Like in Puerto Rico Now

VIDEO: What Everyday Life Is Like in Puerto Rico Now

In Puerto Rico, everything has changed since Hurricane Maria struck nearly 3 months ago.

Many people have no running water. And if they do, it can’t be consumed without boiling.

There’s no electricity in many regions.

Supplies are scarce.

I’ve written about the SHTF aftermath in Puerto Rico, both the day after the storma week after, and a couple of months later. But while there is a lot of good information in all those articles, it’s just words on a page.

The video below brings it to life. This is what life looks like for people who have just watched everything be turned upside down by Mother Nature.

The Ongoing Misery of Puerto Rico

The Ongoing Misery of Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s recovery from Hurricane Maria, which hit the U.S. territory on Sept. 20, remains slow and spotty with continued power outages, unsafe water and school closings, reports Dennis J Bernstein.


It’s been nearly seven weeks since Hurricane Maria shredded the island of Puerto Rico and, still, conditions for millions of Puerto Ricans remain grim and barely livable. Thousands are still stuck in shelters, while many others remain in their homes with limited access to electricity and clean water.

Puerto Rican residents walk in flooded streets in Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, following Hurricane Maria. (Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos)

Last Thursday, large swaths of San Juan were again without power and those without their own independent generators were thrown into darkness with little support. Once again, heavy rains flooded out the streets of San Juan, creating the conditions for various water-borne diseases like cholera to proliferate.

I spoke with attorney and human rights activist Judith Berkan about conditions on the Island, even as federal troops prepare to leave the struggling U.S. territory.

Dennis Bernstein: Tell us about your day today.

Judith Berkan: I had two court hearings and in the middle of the first one, which was in the federal court, we became aware that there had been a major blackout throughout the north coast of Puerto Rico.  This one is supposed to last between twelve and eighteen hours.  The system gets overloaded and then it goes out again.

Tuesday night there were incredible storms here in Puerto Rico.  Because we don’t have electricity, the pumps to drain water from the drains are not functioning.  One of the attorneys at the first hearing had actually been pulled out of her car during the awful rains.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Museletter #305: Puerto Rico is our Future

Download printable PDF version here (PDF, 93KB)

My hometown of Santa Rosa, California, and surrounding communities were decimated by wildfires during the week of October 9, with entire neighborhoods completely erased. If you want a sense of how bad the fires were, watch this 11-minute video clip put together by three Berkeley firefighters. For a more personal view of the consequences of the fires, check out this webcomic accountby the husband of the Sonoma County Director of Human Services (the couple lost their home). My wife Janet and I voluntarily evacuated our house at 4am on October 10 (we were just outside a mandatory evacuation zone), after bundling our four sleepy chickens into the back of our car. We were among the fortunate ones: we were able to return home late that same day. Meanwhile 19 residents of Santa Rosa had lost their lives (the death toll throughout the region stands at over 40) and hundreds—including many of our friends as well as a former Post Carbon Institute employee and her family—had lost homes and belongings. We’re glad to be spared, and wish the best for those not so fortunate.
Richard

Puerto Rico is our Future

News reports tell of the devastation left by a direct hit from Category 4 Hurricane Maria. Puerto Ricans already coping with damage from Hurricane Irma, which grazed the island just days before, were slammed with an even stronger storm on September 20, bringing more than a foot of rain and maximum sustained winds of at least 140 miles per hour. There is still no electricity—and likely won’t be for weeks or months—in this U.S. territory of 3.4 million people, many of whom also lack running water. Phone and internet service is likewise gone. Nearly all of Puerto Rico’s greenery has been blown away, including trees and food crops.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Hurricane Ravaged Dominica: ‘It’s All Gone’ And Fighting For Survival

Hurricane Ravaged Dominica: ‘It’s All Gone’ And Fighting For Survival

dominica

In just the blink of an eye, island life on Dominica was turned upside down.  Like Puerto Rico, Dominica was violently ravaged by Hurricane Maria, and residents are still fighting for survival.

The wooden frames and scattered, water-damaged belongings are all that remains of some homes of on Dominica, which was ravaged by Hurricane Maria last month. Without warning, the storm rapidly accelerated from a Category 3 to a Category 5, and residents said they could do little to prepare. “There was lightning, there was heavy rain…[it was like] the hurricane was in the house,” said Dominica’s Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit according to ABC News. “We have lost everything that money can buy, and that is a fact.”

The roof of Roosevelt Skerrit’s house was blown away and its floors flooded. On the night Hurricane Maria hit, Skerrit took to Facebook to post updates including one that said, “I am at the complete mercy of the hurricane. House is flooding” and another that said, “The winds are merciless! We shall survive by the grace of God!” Later he posted, “I have been rescued.”

“You can still see the shock, the anxiety, the fear the trauma in the eyes and the expressions of people every day,” he told ABC’s Nightline. “Their entire life investments, life’s savings, blown away.” Another now displaced resident named Emmanuel Peter said he can still remember the roar of the hurricane-force winds. “It was just whistling, whistling,” he said. “I thought it would burst my eardrums.”

Puerto Rico was not the only island in Hurricane Maria’s path, and almost a month later, both islands still look like post-apocalyptic zones.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Number Of Puerto Rico Residents Without Clean Water And Electricity Keeps Rising

Number Of Puerto Rico Residents Without Clean Water And Electricity Keeps Rising

A lone car provides the only source of light in devastated Puerto Rico city of Utuado.

A lone car provides the only source of light in the devastated Puerto Rico city of Utuado.

In the wake of Hurricane Maria’s wrath, Puerto Rico remains devastated. Newest reports from the island territory now show that the number of residents without clean drinking water and electricity continues to rise, despite humanitarian efforts.

Puerto Rico’s government has reported that roughly 10 percent of the islands 3.4 million United States citizens are without electricity Tuesday morning, an increase of about six percent from Monday.

The island’s electrical grid was all but completely destroyed during Hurricane Maria, and many are still struggling without the most basic of necessities. This news comes just one day after Puerto Rico’s Governor Ricardo Rossello asked the federal government for an additional $4.6 billion in funding beyond the Trump administration’s request last week for $29 billion from Congress for relief efforts.

“Puerto Rico has experienced a natural disaster of a magnitude not seen in over a century, and we are doing everything possible to address the needs of the American citizens of Puerto Rico during this time of crisis,” Rosselló wrote. “However, the unprecedented level of destruction, coupled with the almost complete shut-down of business in Puerto Rico, have made it impossible for us to meet the considerable human needs without the measures proposed above,” he added.

The White House also announced Monday that it would allow a 10-day waiver temporarily blocking the Jones Act to expire. This is devastating news for those living in Puerto Rico, as foreign ships can no longer bring aid to the hurricane-ravaged island from U.S. ports.

Officials still expect it to be six more months before electricity can be fully restored to Puerto Rico. As the days have become weeks, the weeks will become months, and survival will get more difficult.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Puerto Rico is on Track for Historic Debt Forgiveness–Unless Wall Street Gets Its Way

COROZAL, PUERTO RICO - SEPTEMBER 27:  Irma Maldanado stands with Sussury her parrot and her dog in what is left of her home that was destroyed when Hurricane Maria passed through on September 27, 2017 in Corozal, Puerto Rico.  Puerto Rico experienced widespread damage including most of the electrical, gas and water grid as well as agriculture after Hurricane Maria, a category 4 hurricane, passed through.  (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

PUERTO RICO IS ON TRACK FOR HISTORIC DEBT FORGIVENESS — UNLESS WALL STREET GETS ITS WAY

FOR BONDHOLDERS SITTING on Puerto Rican debt, Hurricane Maria may have come just when they needed it, just as a yearslong battle over the fate of the island’s financial future was beginning to turn against them. Or, depending on how the politics shake out, they could see their entire bet go south.

Ahead of Maria, the federally appointed fiscal oversight board now in control of Puerto Rico’s finances had developed a plan that would wipe out 79 percent of the island’s annual debt payments, taking a massive chunk out of the payday hedge funds had been hoping to land from the island.

In the wake of the storm, that fight could go one of two ways: Advocates for Puerto Rico are making the case that the devastation means that 79 percent should be ratcheted up all the way to a full debt cancellation. The hedge funds, meanwhile, see an opening to attack the oversight board and reclaim ownership of the process.

While Congress focuses on the size and shape of the relief package, the battle over the much larger debt — at least $74 billion — is being overshadowed. As hedge funds attempt to undermine the board’s legitimacy in the courts, resentment toward the board from a different end of the political spectrum has made the body unpopular for entirely different reasons: It’s colonial and undemocratic. The difference between the two? The left wants debt relief for Puerto Ricans. Many bondholders want the opposite.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

In Maria’s Wake, Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green?

In Maria’s Wake, Could Puerto Rico Go Totally Green?

The ecological and humanitarian destruction of Puerto Rico has left the world aghast. But there is a hopeful green-powered opportunity in this disaster that could vastly improve the island’s future while offering the world a critical showcase for a sane energy future.

By all accounts Hurricane Maria has leveled much of the island, and literally left it in the dark. Puerto Rico’s electrical grid has been extensively damaged, with no prospects for a return to conventionally generated and distributed power for months to come.

In response Donald Trump has scolded the island for it’s massive debt, and waited a full week after the storm hit to lift a shipping restriction requiring all incoming goods to be carried on US-flagged ships. (That restriction is largely responsible for the island’s economic problems in the first place.)

The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority is a state-owned operation that hosts a number of solar and wind farms, as well as a network of hydroelectric dams. But the bulk of its energy supply has come from heavy industrial oil, diesel and gas burners. It also burns coal imported from Colombia at a plant in Guyama.

The fossil burners themselves apparently were left mostly undamaged by Maria. But the delivery system, a traditional network of above-ground poles and wires, has essentially been obliterated. Power authority officials say it could take at least 4-6 months to rebuild that network.

And of course, there is no guaranteeing such a pole-and-wire set-up would not then be obliterated by the next storm.

Among the most serious casualties have been the island’s hospitals. According to reports, 58 of Puerto Rico’s 69 medical facilities have been blacked out. At least two people died when intensive care units went dark.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Puerto Rico: When the electricity stops

Puerto Rico: When the electricity stops

When the electricity stops in modern civilization, pretty much everything else stops. Not even gasoline-powered vehicles can get far before they are obliged to seek a fill-up—which they cannot get because gas pumps rely on electricity to operate.

When I wrote “The storms are only going to get worse” three weeks ago, I thought the world would have to wait quite a while for a storm more devastating than hurricanes Harvey and Irma. But instead, Hurricane Maria followed right after them and shut down electricity on the entire island of Puerto Rico except for those buildings with on-site generators.

Another casualty was drinking water because, of course, in almost every location, it must be moved using pumps powered by electricity. In addition, the reason we remain uncertain of the full scope of the damage and danger on the island is that the communications system (powered by electricity, of course) failed almost completely.

The Associated Press reported that as of September 30, 10 days after Maria’s landfall, about 30 percent of telecommunications had been restored, 60 percent of the gas stations were able to dispense fuel and half of the supermarkets were open.

Presumably, these figures represent mostly urban areas where any single act of repair can restore services to many more people than in the countryside where conditions by all accounts remain desperate.

Unless power is restored soon to those areas still without it, many of life’s daily necessities—food, water, medicine—will remain beyond reach for substantial portions of Puerto Rico’s residents. The consequences of this are both predictable and dire. But the expectations are that weeks and months may pass before electricity again reaches the entire island.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

“What Are We Going To Do?” Puerto Rico In Chaos As Cash Runs Out

“What Are We Going To Do?” Puerto Rico In Chaos As Cash Runs Out

Most Puerto Ricans haven’t had access to electricity, cell service or financial services for nearly two weeks now. And as we reported yesterday, residents who didn’t stockpile enough cash have been struggling after Hurricane Maria essentially knocked the island’s economy into the 1950s, forcing some to forgo essential supplies – or worse – resort to looting. For those who do have access to working ATMs and banks, long lines have sapped cash reserves as the country has effectively reverted to a “cash only” economy.

Those whose access to cash has been limited – or cut off entirely – are becoming desperate as they start to wonder how they will begin the process of rebuilding their trashed homes – or even where their next meal will come from. As Reuters reports, cash has become just one of many scarce resources on the island (food, medical supplies and gas are also in incredibly short supply).

With electricity and internet down in Yauco, southwestern Puerto Rico, Nancy and Caesar Nieve said they could not access paychecks directly deposited into their bank accounts.

“What are we going to do when we don’t have any cash? The little cash we have, we have to save for gas,” said Nancy.

Cash demand spiked in the first few days after the hurricane as merchants were unable to accept other modes of payment. First BanCorp, one of the island’s largest banks, said that nearly two-thirds of its 48 branches remained closed, and that electronic transactions had resumed at only 25% of its ATMs.

Apparently, word of these privations made its way back to the New York Fed, which has assured the world via the Wall Street Journal that the central bank has plenty of physical cash to keep banks on the island stocked for the forseeable future – lowering the likelihood that anybody will suffer for lack of access to cash.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Dramatic “Before And After” Photos Show Puerto Rico’s Plunge Into Darkness

Dramatic “Before And After” Photos Show Puerto Rico’s Plunge Into Darkness

It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria made landfall in eastern Puerto Rico, and hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans living in remote villages remain cut off from the world, after the storm trashed power grids, tore up roads, downed cell towers and caused a dam in the northwestern part of the island to fail, endangering tens of thousands of people living in a valley below.

Hospitals, especially in rural areas, have been hopelessly crippled by the storm, which has left them dependent on backup generators for power, threatening the lives of thousands of vulnerable patients. Shipments of diesel fuel to the hospitals are delivered by armed guards to protect against looters – which sounds like something from the plot of one of the “Mad Max” movies.

CNN sent low-flying planes over the island to survey the landscape, and they’ve brought back some stunning footage of the damage. News anchor Jake Tapper tweeted this before-and-after photo, which shows how more than 90% remains mired in blackouts more than a week after the storm made landfall.

Puerto Rico before the hurricane:

And after:

Some meteorologists said Maria hit Puerto Rico with the flooding of Hurricane Harvey in Houston, and the windspeeds of Hurricane Irma in Florida.

“It is as if Puerto Rico got hit with the strength of Irma’s winds, leaving a trail of devastation worse than much of the destruction Irma left in Florida,” said CNN meteorologist Judson Jones. “The rainfall in some areas of Puerto Rico rival the amounts of rain left by Harvey in Houston. And now they are contending with a dam disaster that is reminiscent of California’s Oroville Dam crisis earlier this year.”

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

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