How a Misguided Attempt to Prevent Disaster Created, Instead, a Much Worse Disaster


Everything seemed fine when plans for a new disaster relief program in Puerto Rico were first released, but that’s how these stories always go. The two students masterminding the endeavor came from the renowned institution of MIT, both were being trained as architects, and everyone thought they would be prepared for the task.

The project began with a simple data analysis of tree damage during Hurricane Maria. The island’s foliage had, under the force heavy wind and water, been responsible for much of the damage to homes and property of Puerto Ricans. The rainforests were ravaged by the storms, and the trees posed threats to not only the people of Puerto Rico, but also to its wildlife. The hurricane was able to uproot the forests and leverage the mass of hundred-year-old trees against those living on the island. The trees were marked as a threat, and the MIT students proposed a project that would reduce that threat.

Little did they know, their mitigation strategy, cutting down trees to minimize damage from flying debris, would cause large scale psychological damage to the people of the island. The previous hurricane, like most others, had destroyed most of the islands tree coverage. The image of bare street, debris, was a well known trigger for the survivors. Cutting down what little green that still remained, only worsened the existing psychological condition. The naked streets were a constant reminder of the severity of the islands present situation. The loss of their homes had driven away each any every bird. The island was now naked, and uncomfortably silent.

The mitigation plans had been backed by concrete science. But what was misunderstood, was that this “science” was just one perspective on a larger interconnected system. While trees, and debris in general, could become projectile, and cause damage during hurricane events, they also helped to stabilize the soil, slow down landslides, control flooding, and provide habitats for wildlife. First, there was a drastic reduction of the wildlife population, as animals were forced to compete for shelter in rocks and human-made structures. Tourist began booking vacations to other islands…ones with shade. Complaints of sunburn became common. Local farming became impossible without the shade of the trees, and Puerto Rico became even more reliant on imports. Slowly, with the removal of all of the island’s trees, soil began eroding with each consecutive rainfall, sinking to the bottom of the sea. The island was slowly becoming flatter. Puerto Ricans began moving away, until today, we have no record of anyone still remaining on the island.

Then, just this morning, hurricane Tim had hit as a Category 5! And the island…if you could call what was left an island…was washed away entirely.


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