Days after Hurricane Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, authorities are starting to see the scope of devastation that left the US territory without water service, power or communication.
“Looking at how ruined all the places where I grew up and lived all my life are, is just something that can’t stop the tears from falling down my cheeks and is something that I never thought I would have to see. It’s a feeling of heartache and sadness,” said Ana Efe, a Puerto Rican student at Manhattan College.
The crisis in Puerto Rico is just beginning, and will likely last months or years.
Puerto Rico’s entire power grid was knocked offline during the storm. The New York Times reports it could be four to six months before power is restored on the island. This means half a year relying on generators, and half a year without air conditioning in the tropical climate.
“I couldn’t believe it. It looked like a war zone. I just want to go home, but I can’t because the airport was severely damaged as well,” said Natalia Alvarez, a junior at Manhattan College.
Relief efforts are underway: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo led a flight to the island that brought water bottles, meals and electrical generators to power hospitals and shelters.
This illustrates one reason the recovery will be long and hard for Puerto Rico — it will need supplies and building material shipped from overseas.
“I kinda even felt guilty that all my friends and mom are going through that horrible situation and I was here with no way to help to them. I was very distracted all day [during the Hurricane] and was looking at my phone constantly during my classes in case I had any news,” said Maria Paula, a Manhattan student.
The New York Times explains that getting the power back on in Puerto Rico “will be daunting and expensive.”
Power outage in Puerto Rico is a serious issue, as Vox’s Alexia Fernandez Campbell explains, because the government is broke and the infrastructure is aging.
Thaliana Mendez, a senior at MC from Puerto Rico commented on the devastation.
“I always try to call every number I can get in touch with and just pray that one call can be transferred and communicate me with my family,” she said.
In her case, her house confronted minimal damage but everything around it was destroyed and torn apart.
Like Mendez, millions of Puerto Ricans living in the mainland United States have yet to make contact with their loved ones.
“I was all the way here unable to help them or even hear from them. My daily routine changed; I missed my classes the following day and I didn’t even eat because the feeling I had in my gut was one that wasn’t letting me get out of bed,” said Efe.
Puerto Rican students at Manhattan College are mobilizing to help their families and friends as fast as they can.
“I would rather have been in danger in PR with my family than safe here without them,” said Rocio Ramallo, a junior at Manhattan College. “Moving forward, I guess the only thing we can do is stay calm and patient until we can get all our services back and anyone who can donate even the slightest donation will be of huge help.”
Alvarez, who is also a Resident Assistant, says there’s a group of students planning relief efforts.
“A group of students and I are planning fundraisers and recollecting supplies to send to the people in need. I guess that’s all I can do from New York. Be on the lookout for events going on on campus to aid the Caribbean,” she said.
Amidst the crisis, many remain hopeful and positive.
“We Puerto Ricans are very strong people and we will get through this,” Efe said.