Harvey, Irma, Maria, José and Nate will forever be names associated with the catastrophic 2017 Atlantic hurricane season. One year later, millions of people from Texas to the Caribbean still suffer physical and psychological fallout from those disastrous weather events.
At the time, Israelis from IsraAID, Magen David Adom, Dream Doctors, ZAKA, the Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), the Jewish Agency, and United Hatzalah/Israel Rescue Coalition sent help in various capacities, including cleanup, search-and-rescue and trauma care.
With hurricane season now on the go again, ISRAEL21c looks at two organizations — IsraAID and the ITC – who have stayed in the region to continue healing wounds and preparing residents for the next big storm.
Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25, 2017 and wreaked havoc among some 13 million people in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee and Kentucky. Much of the greater Houston area was flooded and tens of thousands of people needed emergency shelter.
The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC) organized a series of resilience training sessions for Houston clinicians, educators and administrators led by Israeli resilience counselors Reuven Rogel and Dalia Sivan.
Earlier this month, Rogel spoke with ISRAEL21c just before flying back to Houston to lead a fourth train-the-trainers session for 28 professionals.
Four of those local trainers worked with Rogel on his previous trip, which provided personal resilience tools to 89 police officers serving in a mental-health intervention force. Rogel also will work with firefighters from nearby Santa Fe, where a school shooting took place on May 18. Two additional sessions are planned later this year for Houston educators.
Over the past year, professionals trained by ITC have developed methodologies and protocols to deliver to their own staff in preparation for the next catastrophe.
“I think they’re much more able now to deal with disasters because we’ve created a conceptual framework for them,” Rogel tells ISRAEL21c.
As deputy head of the Community Stress Prevention Center in Kiryat Shmona, Rogel and other ITC members are also busy dealing with pressing mental-health issues at home, particularly among traumatized residents of Gaza border communities.
“It was a huge question if it’s okay to leave in the middle of all that, and the answer is life should go on. We have staff members who will do the work and I will stay in communication,” Rogel said on the eve of his departure.
Niv Rabino, Texas head of mission for IsraAID, has been in Houston since Hurricane Harvey.
In cooperation with Tulane University and other partners, Rabino is going door to door in a 700-household community as a pilot project to assess social vulnerability and create a database of people likely to need extra assistance or education before and after a storm.
“We want to give community management teams more control after a storm by knowing where resources are needed and how to channel them in a cost-efficient way,” Rabino tells ISRAEL21c. “During Harvey, there were a lot of resources coming in but they weren’t always allocated well.”
This information is being integrated with data about environmental and infrastructure hazards. “Together that gives us a picture that’s pretty comprehensive. We don’t think anything like this has been done before as a tool for preparing for a future response.”
Rabino expects to stay at least until the pilot is done in late October. What happens after that depends on the weather. “If there’s another hurricane, I’m ready to start working,” he says.
PUERTO RICO AND DOMINICA
On September 18, 2017, Hurricane Maria became the first recorded Category 5 hurricane to strike the island of Dominica. Two days later, Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico.
Both Caribbean islands suffered loss of electricity, homes, agriculture and other infrastructure. Resident displacement and power outages still haven’t been fully resolved, and thousands of citizens remain psychologically traumatized.
Since these islands are highly vulnerable every hurricane season, IsraAID and partner organizations launched long-term projects to improve disaster response and community sustainability.
Haley Broder of California went to Puerto Rico in June as deputy head of mission (previously she was deputy head of mission & UNICEF program in Dominica). Her team includes an Israeli environmental engineer, a local programs coordinator, a psychosocial specialist from Portugal and two American summer fellows.
Working with Interamerican University of Puerto Rico, IsraAID volunteers are finishing a slow-sand gravity-based water filtration system in the rural mountainous Barrio Real neighborhood in the Pitallas municipality. Barrio Real didn’t have power for seven months after Maria.
“Last year we were giving out water filters and teaching people how to use them. The new system is a longer-term approach to provide safe drinking water off the grid,” Broder tells ISRAEL21c.
IsraAID trained schoolteachers from the Aspira Association of Puerto Rico’s school network on how to help kids cope with trauma and use resiliency techniques.
IsraAID’s water engineer trained 15 Jewish residents of San Juan to teach members of the approximately 200 households in Barrio Real about safe drinking water and avoiding water-borne illnesses.
“One local woman said to me, ‘I had no idea who IsraAID was and I have no idea how you found us on the map but I’m so glad you’re here,’” reports Broder. “Everyone is very grateful.”
“We’re planning to be here for a while,” says Broder. “There are a lot of pocket communities still without power and there’s a need to build resiliency across the island because there is a threat of disasters to come. We had Tropical Storm Beryl in early July, and you could see a rising sense of anxiety.”
In Dominica, IsraAID rushed in immediately after Hurricane Maria at the invitation of the locally based Beverly Foundation.
Six Israeli doctors, part of an emergency team supporting local healthcare facilities, saw 1,289 patients. Access to safe drinking water was assured for 2,777 people through WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) programs and 150 temporary shelter tents were set up.
More than 13,000 children visited 22 child-friendly “psychological first aid” shelters around the island established by IsraAID and UNICEF, where kids were guided in resiliency activities and adults were trained in psychosocial support for children.
Working with a variety of partners, IsraAID then embarked on long-term projects focused on recovery and resiliency.
According to Hannah Gaventa, formerly director of the Puerto Rico Mission and now IsraAID’s country director for Dominica, all 73 schools in Dominica have participated in hazard, vulnerability and capacity assessment training and have built disaster preparedness plans.
“We intend for every student on the island to understand what a disaster is and make sure their homes and communities are safe in case of a hurricane,” Gaventa tells ISRAEL21c.
Two Israeli architects brought in by IsraAID are working with local construction teams and partner sponsors to reroof 106 schools and houses damaged by Hurricane Maria. School building guidelines have been designed to ensure the buildings are resilient.
Rachel Ullysses, a Castle Bruce resident whose roof was repaired, wrote a “thank you” poem that began: “You guys are angels in the flesh, you went around and made people’s hearts feel blessed.”
Gaventa is directing a team of six Israelis and 14 local and national staff to support IsraAID’s programs on Dominica.
One of these initiatives addresses the employment crisis sparked by the hurricane. Fourteen residents were trained as commercial beekeepers through IsraAID’s HoneyAid program that has been successful in other countries. Vulnerable young adults are being trained in construction.
“We only go to communities where we are invited, and we work with great partners,” emphasizes Gaventa.
She organized a conference in Barbados last May with UNICEF at which 100 officials of 18 Eastern Caribbean countries discussed lessons learned in the 2017 hurricane season.
“We talked about what went well, what could be improved and what one country can learn from another. We’ll do another in October because regional sharing of knowledge is really important,” says Gaventa, who expects her team to remain on Dominica at least until the end of 2019.
[Photo: Israel21c ]