Maria’s Devastation Sends Puerto Rican Students Reeling

Category 4 Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico last week, killing at least 16 people and leaving the island largely without electricity and water./Michelle Lou, Executive Editor

After Hurricane Maria left Puerto Rico without electricity and water, Emory students from Puerto Rico were largely left in the dark as they tried to communicate with friends and family back home.

“It was the most scared I have ever been in my life,” President of the Puerto Rican Student Association (PRSA) Josue Rodriguez (20C) said. “The only message I received [from my dad] said ‘I’m scared.’ And when you hear your dad say that, you feel it.”

In the aftermath of the storm, government officials said that recovery for Puerto Rico, which is already dealing with a financial crisis, would take at least four months. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo A. Rossello characterized the island as being on “the brink of a humanitarian crisis” Sept. 25 and urged the federal government to send more money, workers and supplies to aid relief efforts, according to The New York Times. In response to the crisis, Emory students from Puerto Rico have united with a network of 50 collegiate organizations nationwide to fundraise aid for their home.

“It’s been a nationwide effort, and it’s called #StudentsWithPuertoRico,” Rodriguez said. “We’ve raised over $15,000 in just one day through the Students with Puerto Rico GoFundMe.”

Maria was the most powerful storm to hit the U.S. territory since 1928, according to NASA. The category 4 storm was a tough blow on the island’s outdated infrastructure and killed at least 16 people, according to The Weather Channel.

Frances Connor (19C) said returning to Puerto Rico “will be hard” after Maria ravaged the island.

“Puerto Rico won’t be the same,” Connor said. “I’m afraid to go back and not recognize my home.”

Lucas Mondo (19C) said Maria “completely destroyed” his home and has left his family in the dark.

“Because there’s no electricity, my family lives by candlelight,” Mondo said. “My mom and dad work from the house, so not having power affects their income [and] how they live every day.”

Multiple Emory students from Puerto Rico have yet to hear from their families, Rodriguez told the Wheel Friday evening.

“I wasn’t able to talk to family for nearly a day and a half,” Angelica Tabaro (21C) said. “I live in Dorado, and it’s completely flooded … people can’t leave their homes. Trees are all down, as well as the power lines.”

Connor added that Puerto Ricans are dedicated to rebuilding their home, whether they are on the island or abroad.

“People aren’t saying they want to leave — they’re saying they want to help,” Connor said. “And people in the [U.S. are saying], ‘I want to go, I want to go back, I want to help.’”

Jovaan Velez (21C) recalled a phone call with his mother, who weathered the storm alone.

“The windows were opening in my house [because of the wind], and my mom was alone,” Velez said. “She had to safeguard the house by herself, where she said rain was getting into my room, and she wasn’t able to close the windows without help.”

Rodriguez expressed disappointment with Emory’s lack of discussion about the crisis.

“Yesterday we received an email from Giselle F. Martin, the associate dean of Admissions at Emory,” Rodriguez said. “She was the first and only person from Emory to contact us. There hasn’t been a message from [University] President [Claire E.] Sterk, College Council or student government.”

Connor received a Sept. 19 email from Few and Evans Hall Complex Director Gregory Hollinger, who emailed some Puerto Rican students to make them aware of available campus resources, such as Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) and Student Success Programs and Services.

Puerto Rican students from the Georgia Institute of Technology, Emory University, Life University (Ga.) and Agnes College University (Ga.) will host a party at Rush Lounge in Atlanta Sept. 29 from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., where 35 percent of earnings at the door will go toward recovery efforts.

Michelle Lou, Richard Chess, Parth Mody, Emma Simpson and Alejandro Perez contributed reporting.