Before we were visited by Hurricane Irma in Miami and throughout Florida, we experienced a week of anticipation, following the “cone of predictions,” looking at the projected path, and making plans and preparations.
We watched the storm heading our way, strengthening to a Category 5 hurricane while passing through the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, Dominica, and Cuba. We stood in long lines to fill up on gas, and we looked in the empty shelves of grocery stores for water and nonperishable foods.
At the hospital, we activated our hurricane plans, accounting for our Alpha and Bravo teams, taking inventory of sleep rooms for the residents, and preparing to house our special needs patients and their families as the hospital serves as a shelter for children on home ventilators. Hurricanes can at least be anticipated, tracked, and projected, and one can prepare for them and/or evacuate and escape their paths.
Before Irma, we witnessed anxiety in the eyes of us Floridians who have been through other hurricanes before, knowing what a Category 4 or 5 will cause, as well as anxiety in the eyes of those who have not been in Florida long enough to live through a hurricane.
Some made plans to evacuate their neighborhoods, and some decided to leave the city and the state. In the face of a constantly changing path—from east to west, then west to east—evacuation meant “better leave the whole state.”
However, throughout the preparations, anxiety, and chaos, we witnessed inter-professional collaboration, teamwork, advocacy, and humanism at all levels of the community. Both Irma and Hurricane Harvey brought out the positive, with people helping one another, opening their homes to neighbors, and planning interstate rescue efforts.
Living in an evacuation zone, I had planned to ride out the storm in the hospital, but at the last minute I was lucky to be able to evacuate and leave Florida, albeit with a sense of guilt and remorse (as PIR Deputy Editor Hugh Allen, MD, mentions in his companion blog on Hurricane Harvey in Texas). I packed important documents, flood insurance papers, passport, etc. Through current technology and group chats, I was able to keep in touch with co-workers, neighbors and friends, both those who rode out the storm and those who drove out of state. This video of the street around my building was recorded by a friend during Hurricane Irma.
After Irma, we returned to scenes of fallen trees, ruined fences, hanging street lights, fallen power lines, and palm trees that withstood the fury of the storm and remained standing tall like sticks with no leaves. We realized how lucky we were, as Irma’s path of destruction included the Caribbean islands, the Keys, and the entire state of Florida. In Miami, our Irma recovery strengthened our sense of teamwork and collaboration: people with power offered their homes to peers for a warm shower, or donated ice and water, or arranged food drives.
Compounding the situation after Irma, we witnessed Hurricane Jose and then the fury of Hurricane Maria and its devastating attack on areas that had barely recovered, such as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, an American Territory projected to be without power for 4-6 months. And soon after that the earthquake in Mexico inflicted unexpected devastation.
We live in a global society without walls and dividers. Any country or territory affected by such disasters impacts all of us, as we all have friends, neighbors, co-workers or family members who are connected to these areas. Indeed, a natural disaster in any part of the world is more likely to impact the family and friends of someone we know and care about.
Climate change, wars, and disasters affect us all. We all bear witness to the results of global warming and its impact in natural disasters and storms that cross all borders and tear down walls.
By the same token, however, our global community always comes together with collaborative, supportive, and positive energy. The spirit of camaraderie and unity in the face of disasters prompted people to arrange drives, fundraisers, send supplies, and lend a helping hand.
We are all united and stronger together.
As pediatricians, we are in a unique position to influence the future of the environment by translating and explaining the science and evidence through our prevention messages to families of patients we care for. We also play a role in assisting patients and families dealing with loss, stress and fears in times of disasters, providing support for those in need.
In the midst of tragedy and destruction, humanism, caring, empathy, good deeds, teamwork, and collaboration prevail and are a positive energy that make the world keep turning, the sun keep shining, and the flood waters receding.