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Hurricane Sandy holds hostage a U.S. citizen in Salamanca (Spain)

Matthew Robinson of Washington D.C. shares with TRIBUNA his experience of the disaster, unable to return to the U.S. due to flight cancellations.

Thousands of miles away from home, Matthew Robinson, a resident of Washington D.C., still manages to remain optimistic despite the cancellation of his flight to the U.S. originally scheduled for October 30th. His intended seven day visit to Salamanca (Spain) has been prolonged several days due to the disaster of Hurricane Sandy. Despite the inconvenience, Robinson admits “I can´t complain too much about being stuck in Salamanca; It´s a beautiful city.”

Although Robinson is thoroughly enjoying his stay in the university town, he shares with TRIBUNA his concern for his home country. The messages that his contacts have relayed to him from New York confirm the extent of the damage. “I don´t think that New York was really prepared for a natural disaster of this magnitude, I think they underestimated it,” Robinson says. From both a political as well as a social approach Robinson speaks with TRIBUNA about his perspective on the hurricane as he has experienced it from abroad.

How are your friends and family responding to your inability to return to the United States as scheduled?

When I tell people that I´m stuck in Salamanca nobody has any sympathy for me. I´m not seeking any, I really can´t complain about being stuck in Salamanca; It´s a beautiful city. I prefer to be here in a place where I feel comfortable and I have had a very good trip, than in any other city. I´m just having more fun until I can get back!

What are you hearing about the disaster from your friends and family on the East Coast?
From Washington D.C., I´ve heard that that the damage was less than expected. There were power outages, but less than what they anticipated. They were prepared for much worse, but in New York I don´t think they were prepared for the extent of the disaster.

Were people taken by surprise by the magnitude of the Hurricane Sandy?

I remember seeing on Facebook people talking about “hurricane parties,” to pass the storm partying, which to me was a suggestion that it was seen as a triviality. I think many people were not prepared for what came. Many people were balancing whether or not it was really worth disrupting their daily routines.

Do you think citizens were well informed about the catastrophe?
Unfortunately, because sometimes storms are predicted to be much worse than what they actually end up being, later people don´t take them as seriously. I also think trust is a big factor. People have to be able to trust that this is a real emergency that they need to change their behavior to address. Not just in the U.S., but all over the world people don´t know who to trust.

What kind of damage are you hearing about?

The majority of my friends, thankfully, haven´t experienced much property damage. Most of them are worried about possible flooding in their work places. However I have heard about areas on the coast that have been completely destroyed.

What is your impression of the way the catastrophe is being handled?

From the reporting I´ve seen I think the first-responders have done an amazing job. However I think the situation has been politicized. I think everything is being put through a political filter. Even before the storm came people were talking about how this would affect the elections. I think that the fact that the political ramifications were covered so early was very strange.

Do you think that emphasis on the political implications of the disaster has served as a distraction from the social ramifications?
I do think that the political coverage was distracting from a quite serious national emergency. I was much more worried about other things than what this disaster was going to do to the campaign schedule. It´s hard to think that that´s a lens through which everything is viewed so naturally that including a hurricane gets put through that filter. I think that in a disaster like this the loss of lives should always be at the forefront of coverage. Some people will be able to read about the damage in the paper the next day, but for others that is their last day on Earth.

What are your thoughts on the way that president Obama has handled the situation?
I know that he has been in contact with many of the local authorities in an ongoing attempt to deal with the crisis. As is expected in political campaigns I´ve seen things from both political parties that I really didn´t think were appropriate. For that reason I was heartened to see that the situation was being taken seriously. I´m thankful that the people who are in charge are taking their job seriously in helping us deal with this catastrophe.

How are the residents of the East Coast recovering from the damage?
I have seen messages on Facebook of people offering to help anyone in need. Luckily it seems that in most places there is still some access to social networks to be able to get messages about conditions on the ground and where to go to get help. I think there one of the stereotypes about people from the East Coast is that they don´t care about each other and that they don´t have a sense of community. However, there are lots of people that are willing to help whoever is in need, which is really important especially in times like these.