After Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is in the midst of “a humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S citizens,” Gov. of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosello said. Puerto Rico’s slow progress is riddled with obstacles. The island is in desperate need of power, water, fuel and food, leaving students with ties to the island both worried and optimistic.
Dahiany Zayas, a sophomore majoring in health sciences, has family living in Puerto Rico.
“I was shocked because everyone I know is more affected than I thought,” Zayas said. “My friend’s grandmother has no bed to sleep on because of the flooding that got into her house. My friend depends on the water that flows down the mountains when it rains for fresh water. Another family member is not able to receive treatment because of the medication shortages on the island.”
Maria was the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in almost 80 years, but Puerto Rico’s electrical grid has gradually been improving. At least 5 percent of electricity has been restored, however officials say it could be months before power if fully restored.
According to the Department of Defense, 58 out of 69 hospitals are without fuel or power. The U.S. government has sent more than 300 medical staff to support the devastated islands. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is aiding Puerto Rico with the same $15.3 billion it used to help Texas, Florida, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
FEMA also sent 10,000 people to Puerto Rico to deliver food, water and other essentials. They have provided over 11 million meals, over 10 million liters of water and 70 thousand tarps to those impacted by the destruction of Hurricane Maria.
Still, some USF students say more effort is needed, including Miranda Crowen, a first-year English major.
“I think it’s atrocious that Puerto Rico isn’t getting the relief it needs after Hurricane Maria,” Crowen said. “Not many people understand that Puerto Rico is part of the United States territories.”
Even so, Puerto Rico is facing a dire situation. Some cities have yet to receive any aid yet because of blocked roads, poor cellphone service and barely functioning seaports.
Many residents had no access to water, so local officers were forced to open a fire hydrant. The FEMA team members are experiencing struggles with transmitting information because of the language differences, not knowing their way around the area and losing contact with the mayor.
Students with friends and family members in the affected areas are concerned over the loss of communication.
Juliette Rodriguez, a sophomore majoring in integrative animal biology, is from Puerto Rico where a number of his family members still live.
“I was born in Puerto Rico and most of my family currently resides there,” Rodriguez said. “I haven’t been able to speak to anyone. I’ve received text messages from my dad and my best friend, but when I replied, the messages wouldn’t go through.
“I was able to communicate with my cousin through Facebook messaging and she sent me pictures of how destroyed her grandmother’s house is now. She told me our grandparents (on my dad’s side) are safe. My mom was able to call my grandmother the other day, but I haven’t been able to hear anyone’s voice.”
Ivan Ayala, a junior majoring in political science, echoed the concerns of Rodríguez.
“I was desperate already. I finally heard from my parents and they told me that they were all fine; my mother told me that my backyard was destroyed because our neighbors tree fell in it,” Ayala said. “Knowing the fact that the place where I used to play when I was little is destroyed was pretty painful, and then watching the pictures of my municipality; streets where I used to go to school every day for fourteen years they were flooded, so these pictures didn’t help.
To temporarily alleviate communication problems, FEMA will send 350 satellite telephones.
“Despite these hardships, the strongest thing we have is always our constant sense of unity and endurance,” Zayas said. “By coming together to help, we can rise and bring more awareness to Puerto Rico.”
President Donald Trump has said he will travel next week to Puerto Rico and may also visit the U.S. Virgin Islands to provide assistance. According to Trump, basic supplies are sent every hour. Even so, students remain hopeful that Puerto Rico will be rebuilt soon.
“I am a firm believer that Puerto Rico will get back up stronger than before,” Rodriguez said. “My message to any students over here trying to get ahold of their loved ones is to be patient, strong and try to help them as much as you can.”