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The Katrina Effect - Rebuilding Island Culture in the Aftermath of Hurricane Maria

Michael Shannon O’KeefeSep 27, 2017

Image: Cataño, PR (source)       Donation and Aid Sites listed below...

The scarring destruction of Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, and Irma has left millions without food, water, medical supplies, shelter and gasoline. Countless small businesses, local farms, and property owners are left holding the bag as bills and rebuilding costs continue to escalate in the aftermath. Although FEMA offers aid where it can, the organization’s goal is to assist solely in the scope of disaster relief – not towards rebuilding efforts. As millions of Americans in Puerto Rico, Texas, US Virgin Islands (USVI), and Florida attempt to put their lives back together, the growing fear of what the future holds for rebuilding, and how to pay for it, is paramount.

Focusing on the US territories of the Caribbean, the annihilation of property, displacement of peoples, lack of voting rights, and the continuation of a debilitating law clear the way for circling vultures. It is during these chaotic times that each one of these impaired communities must remain wary and vigilant in the face of large corporations and developers who wish to use these calamities as opportunities for profit.

Image: St. Croix, USVI (source)

The “Katrina Effect,” named after the 2005 hurricane regarding New Orleans, refers to the rebuilding of locales in the wake of natural disasters. As many of the citizens in affected areas are displaced, they find employment in refugee cities, never to return, due to either economic paralysis or basic desire. So, too, do businesses – who may set up shop in alternate cities and continue their practices elsewhere. 

It is in this economic void that larger companies move in - utilizing the destroyed properties, recently failed businesses, and diminished prices to rebuild for profit. While there are examples of the Katrina Effect acting positively within effected communities, there are a multitude of instances where societies have been stripped of culture and demoralized in the face of gentrification.

In an interview with Daily News, education consultant Andre Perry comments on the New Orleans rebuild:

“Only the people who have the capacity to come back quickly determined the future,” he said. “There were so many discussions among the people who could come back early about transforming this place that truly ignored the people who live here.”

Image: San Juan, PR (source)

The cataclysmic destruction of Puerto Rico and neighboring USVI provides easy targets for the already encroaching mega resorts. USVI and Puerto Rico rely heavily on tourism. In 2016, tourism added 8% of the total GDP for Puerto Rico - 2.1% of local employment - and, in 2015, 29.9% of the total GDP for the US Virgin Islands – 27% of local employment. 

The territories act as major hubs for cruise ships, as well as profitable golfing, surfing, cultural, and historical destinations. In many instances around the islands, the large resorts and hotels are the only buildings left standing. They are also the first to regain power and clean drinking water. Their purchasing power of the surrounding communities is imminent, driving out the destitute residents and curtailing the already struggling cultural elements of the islands.

Image: Fajardo, PR (source)

As of September 28th, 2017, the presidential administration has deregulated the Jones Act for Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico for ten days; aiding immediate efforts to provide relief services. In the wake of World War I, Congress enacted the Merchant Marine Act of 1920. Known as the Jones Act, the law was created to strengthen the weakened American shipping industry and protect trading routes from remaining U-Boats. 

Interpreted from Section 27 of the law, all shipping deliveries to outlying US territories must be owned and operated by American peoples and companies, and must also touch upon American soil prior to delivery to the territories. Basically, outlying US territories are not allowed to purchase goods or receive aid from anyone other than the American shipping industry.

Puerto Rico - along with Hawaii, Guam, and Alaska – is dependent on economic decisions made from afar, often exceeding a forty percent price increase from those found in the continental US. While competitive pricing from current US trading partners could be created to diminish costs for these territories, the American shipping industry remains the sole lifeline for the vast majority of goods and services delivered.

Image: Viejo San Juan, PR (source)

The lifting of the Jones Act in the affected territories for ten days is a well received move in the proper direction, yet rebuilding efforts could take upwards of ten years - if not longer - as they have in New Orleans. With 3.4 million Americans residing in Puerto Rico, many of which have sought refuge in the continental US and as a whole in severe need of funds, the possibility of disaster profiteering is eminent.

In Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine, Klein writes:

“I call these orchestrated raids on the public sphere in the wake of catastrophic events, combined with the treatment of disasters as exciting market opportunities, ‘disaster capitalism."

Although the brief hiatus of the Jones Act is appreciated, it acts as a mere finger-hold for a dam on the verge of bursting. Almost one-hundred years later and no U-boats left in sight, the Jones Act remains intact – creating a stranglehold on outlying US territories regarding their economic design.

San Juan, PR (source)

As President Obama stated in his recent visit to New Orleans regarding Hurricane Katrina on August 24th, 2017:

"We came to realize that what started out as a natural disaster became a manmade disaster — a failure of government to look out for its own citizens. And the storm laid bare a deeper tragedy that had been brewing for decades... Too many kids grew up surrounded by violent crime, cycling through substandard schools where few had a shot to break out of poverty. And so like a body weakened already, undernourished already, when the storm hit, there was no resources to fall back on."

President Obama’s words hold a frightening mirror to the current state of Puerto Rico. With the last remaining colony in the world in debt exceeding seventy billion prior to the devastation of Hurricane Maria - losing schools, professionals, and businesses at an appalling rate - the land and infrastructure are ripe, low-hanging fruit for disaster capitalism. A major difference between Puerto Rico in comparison to Texas and Florida is the very dismal truth that half of the American public doesn’t even recognize Puerto Rico as a member of the United States. 

Image: Guayama, PR (source)

Adding insult to injury, Puerto Ricans have no representative voting rights in the Senate, no voting rights for the presidency of the US, and a voice to introduce new legislation, but no voting rights, in the House of Representatives. Puerto Rico is allowed a delegate recognized as a  Resident Commissioner instead of a Congressperson. This paints a dismal future for the Puerto Rican people regarding future government and private donations to aid rebuilding efforts.

With the economic void and intense destruction created by hurricanes Maria and Irma, our Caribbean territories are open sores in dire need of medical attention. Puerto Rico, with its debilitating debt in existence prior to the hurricanes, relies heavily on the United States and personal donations for the tiresome road of rebuilding. The aged mentality of the Jones Act, as well as the territory’s lack of representation in Congress, however, hinder these Americans’ true voice and their ability to receive direly needed aid. Without emphatic assistance, all that will remain of our Caribbean territories will be slipshod shadows of their former cultural brilliance.

Image: Santurce, PR (source)

Donations and Aid:

Below are suggestions of how you can aid communities devastated by these awful calamities. Always conduct your own personal research before donating. matches dollar for dollar donations, takes no administrative fees, and allocates monies among local charities.

Serve PR is a non profit organization whose aim is to support the thousands of Service industry professionals affected by the hurricanes, and to help rebuild all aspects of the hospitality industry. In Puerto Rico, this industry makes up 27.5% of the island in 2015 and is a vital aspect in buttressing against the Katrina Effect.

UNICEF has been offering relief and protection to children throughout the world for over 70 years. 90% of every dollar goes directly to helping children. is a review website concentrated on educating readers concerning aid websites and how best to give your money.

Americares is a health based relief fund - focusing primarily on medical supplies, clinics, and community health for disaster areas in the Americas.

Reach out to your Representatives in Congress to nullify The Jones Act.

Former San Antonio basketball player and former USVI resident Tim Duncan is matching dollar for dollar relief funds for the US Virgin Islands, allocating relief to local charities.

The Sato Project offers veterinarian assistance and aid to the displaced animals in Puerto Rico.

All Hands Volunteers has already teamed up the Happy Heart Foundation and committed to a 2-year involvement rebuilding schools in the US Virgin Islands.

The Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund, begun by Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and County Judge Ed Emmet, allocates money to local charities in need.