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Vol. 81/No. 36      October 2, 2017

(feature article)

Capitalism turns Harvey, Irma into social disasters

While hurricanes Irma and Harvey have come and gone, the resulting social disaster — a product of capitalist social relations that values profit over human needs — takes a mounting toll on lives and conditions facing working people in Florida, Texas, and large parts of the Caribbean, including U.S., British, French and the Dutch colonies there. And now working people in Puerto Rico and elsewhere in the Caribbean face additional damage from Hurricane Maria.

“It will be a new and different normal for this entire region,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Aug. 28, spelling out quite bluntly what workers who already facing disastrous conditions must accept.

The owners of capital and their governments have only one message: “You’re on your own” — whether you or your family decided to evacuate or not.

Little or nothing was done by government officials to help those in most dire need. At the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills nursing home in South Florida eight residents died from heat over 100 degrees after their air conditioning failed. Broward County officials were aware of the situation, but didn’t consider the nursing home a “critical” infrastructure, so no action was taken. Evacuations didn’t start until patients were dead and dying three days later.

There were 81 nursing homes still without power Sept. 13, days after the hurricane passed through, the Florida Health Care Association reported.

Your ability to evacuate or not showed the real class divisions under capitalism. In Tampa Bay, Wilman Hernandez, a hotel dishwasher, wasn’t even able to get his family to an area shelter. His repeated attempts to get information from “311” about the shelters went unanswered, he said on Telesur TV.

A different scenario played out in the affluent coastal residence of Rio Vista, where residents spent thousands of dollars chartering private planes, or purchasing generators and other means of keeping power and pumps on.

Millions of gallons of sewage and wastewater have been bubbling up across Florida — as they did in Houston and other parts of Texas — exposing Florida’s deteriorating infrastructure. This includes some 30,000 gallons of raw sewage pouring into a public park in Miami-Dade County; sewage backed up into water ponds and some houses in Orlando; and 200 gallons of fuel that spilled into Lake Reedy in Frostproof.

State law requires sewage pumping stations in Florida to withstand “25-year floods.” When electricity went out, these sewage systems, which are old and low-lying, couldn’t pump out the wastewater.

In Houston, where flooding levels were much worse, mounds of debris from about 126,000 damaged homes line the streets three weeks after Hurricane Harvey hit. Across Texas, the debris “could reach 200 million cubic yards — enough to fill up a football stadium almost 125 times,” reported Reuters. Tens of thousands still haven’t been able to return to their flood-ravaged homes. In many, sewage and other contaminants have left them permanently uninhabitable.

Nowhere have government officials mobilized the forces to deal swiftly with this social crisis, destroying the lives of tens of thousands. At best they hope to get some paltry compensation by and by.

Mobile homes were hit hardest by Hurricane Irma, most of which are uninsured. Not built to withstand hurricane conditions, these often are home for workers making the lower wages bosses increasingly hand out today and seniors seeking cheaper housing for retirement in Florida.

Bill Quinn, a carpenter, went back to the Florida Keys to check whether his trailer sustained damage. He found was that it was gone — blown completely apart. He found his kitchen sink sitting next to U.S. Route 1. The same thing happened to many of his neighbors.

Caribbean countries devastated
Hurricane Irma devastated a number of imperialist colonies in the Caribbean, including the British colonies of Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands; St. Martin/St. Maarten, an island split into colonies of France and the Netherlands; and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The entire population of former British colony Barbuda was evacuated.

Only in Cuba, with a revolutionary government in power, was the population mobilized to organize evacuation from dangerous areas prior to the storm’s arrival and take steps to immediately begin reconstruction efforts.

Instead of taking steps to mobilize the needed aid and reconstruction resources, the imperialist powers rushed more troops to these islands to enforce “law and order.” London announced Sept. 14 it was deploying an additional 260 soldiers and cops to boost the 1,000 military personnel already sent to the region. Paris is doubling its troop deployment to the region to 2,200, and the Netherlands sent more troops as well. “A lot of people are stealing water and biscuits,” complained Paul De Windt, publisher of the Daily Herald in St. Maarten Sept. 10.

In the U.S. Virgin Islands nearly 5,000 troops, including 600 Marines, are on the ground in St. Thomas, watching over private property where many wealthy mainlanders have summer digs and distributing some ready-to-eat rations.

While the capitalist governments have been slow to provide assistance, volunteers have sprung into action, using boats to help residents get out of ravaged areas. “So many boats came to aid that the locals began to call it the ‘Puerto Rican Navy,’” St. John resident Nils Erickson told the Washington Post.

U.S. authorities on the Virgin Island have turned back boats with evacuees and refugees from neighboring islands, including from the hard-hit British Virgin Islands.
Related articles:
After storm, Cuban people and their gov’t rebuild
As Raúl Castro said, ‘In Cuba, no one is left behind’
Brigade will bring solidarity, aid to Cuba after storm
Washington protest demands US hands off Venezuela, Cuba
US moves against Cuba ‘crash against our revolutionary spirit’
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