Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Three Questions: Raul Rivera Nuñez

By Maria Sievers, American Red Cross in Greater NY

"Three Questions" is an American Red Cross in Greater New York blog series featuring staff, volunteers, and partners who help carry out our humanitarian mission. Through these short interviews, we hope to shine a light on our different programs and get to know those who make this work possible.

Raul (second to the left) with his Red Cross team in Bahamas 
Raul Rivera Nuñez, who currently serves as Regional Director of Planning, Readiness, and Situational Awareness at the American Red Cross in Greater NY, first joined the organization in 2009. During his time here he has been deployed several times to national and international disasters. He recently got back from a 5-week deployment to the Bahamas where Hurricane Dorian devastated parts of the country in early September. He defines this experience as one of the most challenging one he has ever had.

What kind of impact did the storm have?

Hurricane Dorian was one of the strongest to impact the islands. A month after the storm impact, there were still 600 hundred people missing.

You hear stories, unbelievable stories of what people had to do to survive. There was one about this man, that was trying not to get swept out by the storm and a piece of flying debris severed his arm. He lost his arm trying to hang on to a tree, so he didn’t get swept out by the storm.

During my time there I quickly became very impressed with the Bahamian people’s resiliency. They are incredibly resilient, resourceful and very warm, even after having gone through something as traumatic as this. As they share their hurricane survival experiences, they always end the story with an intent of determination, energy, adaptability, courage, among other admirable qualities.

What was your specific role in Bahamas?

I was doing a bilateral role, as a shelter/settlement team member. The American Red Cross and the Bahamas Red Cross had a previous relationship, which was established way before this disaster arrived. Me and two other folks [from the American Red Cross] got deployed to do assessment and recommendations. There were two components: One, how can a shelter experience the increase in the number of evacuees? Second, once the evacuees move on to transitional sheltering, what are some recommendations that they need to have the most positive experience possible? And three, also make recommendations for how the Bahamas Red Cross can be a greater stakeholder in the next disaster relief operation

Day to day I’m doing a lot of coordination, so I definitely need to talk to a lot of people, staying on top of the current developments and what the situation awareness is and just make that as part of our overall report. We are also assisting the cash distribution team, they are distributing cash to the most vulnerable people, so we lend a hand in assisting and setting that up. We are working long hours, I would say at least 12 hours per day.

What do people in the US not know about the situation in the Bahamas?

The Bahamas is a bunch of islands, it’s about 700 islands, so the logistics of working here is quite different than working on the mainland or any other type of scenario. Being a chain of islands, there are a limited number of ways that assistance can enter each island, for debris clean-up to be completed, and for how people can get back to assess home damage or do repairs, etc.

Livelihoods have also added complexity to the impact, as a great number of people will not have a job to get back to when they return to their respective islands. All in all, there was the immediate impact trauma that affected the Bahamian people; but also, as time goes by, there will be an longer-term impact on them. It will take time for them to get back to their island, time to get the opportunity to rebuild, time to find/train for a new job, and time to return to some decent level of normalcy.

All of the deployments are different because of the nature of the specific incident, but this one has been one of the most challenging ones.

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