Brooklyn, NY – This weekend, the head of the New York State Nurses Association reported live from Puerto Rico, where
the organization is helping to care for survivors of the hurricane ravaged island — and the official death toll from that devastation has risen to more than 900.
“We are here to set up clinics for people who are not getting medical care…with the people on the ground who are trying to survive this horrible disaster,” NYSNA President Judy Sheridan-Gonzalez told a large group assembled inside Cadman Plaza Park on Saturday to observe the fifth anniversary of another hurricane — Hurricane Sandy.
“As we remember the sad days of Hurricane Sandy…imagine, ten-times worse — the Hurricanes Maria and Irma that hit Puerto Rico,” Sheridan-Gonzalez said.
Mercedes Martinez, head of the Puerto Rican Teachers Federation, expressed gratitude for the support organized labor
on mainland USA has provided the people of Puerto Rico, but said that school kids on the island are in dire need.
“We have a lot of [need] for ur children — they have lost everything,” Martinez said. “It’s critical here for Puerto Ricans to get help.”
The continuing suffering on the island of Puerto as a result of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, recalls the devastation Superstorm Sandy unleashed five years ago. Hurricane Sandy claimed the lives of as many as 147 people — some 48 in New York alone.
NYSNA’s Pat Kane addressed this weekend’s commemoration inside Cadman Plaza Park, by remembering cars floating through the streets of Staten Island, desperate residents swimming to the doors of Staten Island University Hospital seeking help — and the smell of “decay and petrochemicals” that at the time, was dubbed “Sandy Air.”
“Even though we all went around with masks, we all had ‘Sandy Cough,’” Kane said.
Five-full years after the devastation, Kane said there are New Yorkers who have still not yet returned to their flood-ravaged homes, and that “full recovery has yet to be accomplished.”
In response, communities hardest hit by the storm are urging New York State to move to 100 percent renewable energy. The state currently derives just 3 percent of its energy from renewable sources including wind and solar power.
“We cannot tolerate that, community organizer Leslie Cagan said. “Now is the time to pass the legislations to move New York off of fossil fuels and into-100 percent renewable energies — there is no time to waste.”
New York City buildings constitute about 70 percent of the town’s green houses gasses. Activist are urging Mayor Bill de
Blasio to get serous about “greening” those buildings and capping hazardous gasses through a retrofitting program that could also produce a new wave of good union jobs. Pressure is also on the city to divest pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.
“There is more that can be done, even with a reactionary administration,” said Eddie Bautista, executive director, New York City Environmental Justice Alliance.
For the people of Puerto Rico, government intransigence and a continued reliance of neoliberal policies is making recovery from Hurricanes Maria and Irma hellish.
“We are suffering,” Puerto Rican Teachers Federation VP Edwin Morales said this weekend. “We faced two hurricanes, so we know directly what are the effects of disastrous politics of the ruling class that are changing our climate and effecting our lives right now. We are fighting against the lack of response from FEMA and the federal agencies. And, also, we are dealing with a lot politics that are trying to build misery.”