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Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute

After Maria: Everyday recovery from disaster

A graphic novella, produced by Dr Gemma Sou, explores how low-income Puerto Rican families recovered from the impacts of Hurricane Maria.

On 20 September 2017, the ‘biggest storm in Caribbean history’ Hurricane Maria struck the Caribbean island of Puerto Rico causing over US$30 billion in damage. But what happened after the storm passed? How did the people recover and what were the long-term and hidden impacts?

For one year, Dr Gemma Sou and Dr Felix Aponte-Gonzalez conducted ethnographic research, following 16 low-income Puerto Rican families to find out how they recovered from Maria. Gemma turned this research into a 20-page graphic novella, free to download in English and in Spanish. Although the graphic novella tells the story of a fictional family, After Maria is based on the experiences that tie together all of the Puerto Rican families Gemma spoke to.

Gemma commissioned local artist John Cei Douglas to illustrate the story.

Fantastic teaching resource

If you are interested in ethical representations of developing country contexts, and issues related to gender, inequality, resilience, poverty, vulnerabilities, disasters and identities then the novella will resonate. Readers can use their wider understanding of these theories and concepts they have learnt in class or elsewhere, to unpack the stories images, dialogue, and narratives in 'After Maria'.

The graphic novella also includes:

  • information about research on disaster impacts, disaster recovery and media representations of disasters;
  • discussion points;
  • the importance of graphically illustrating research
  • further reading.

Reading 'After Maria', you'll discover the subtle social, cultural, economic and psychological impacts of disasters that go under the radar of the international news media. 'After Maria' also reveals how and why different family members experience disasters differently to one another – based on gender, age, and race.

You'll find out how disaster-affected families use their limited resources to recover from the impacts of hazards. The story highlights what recovery means for disaster-affected people – is it simply repairing a damaged roof, or does it also include recovering a person's sense of home and identity?

The videos below were taken by Gemma three weeks after Maria hit the neighbourhood where she conducted her research.

The drone footage above was taken by Gemma three weeks after Maria hit the neighborhood where she conducted her research. 

The video below was taken inside the house of one of the families that Gemma spoke to.

This work was funded by The University of Manchester Public Engagement fund and supported by the Humanitarian and Conflict Response Institute.