A Year After Hurricane Maria

by Nicole Rodriguez Staff Writer

Puerto Rico se levanta. Puerto Rico rises. A phrase coined immediately after the devastation of Hurricane Maria to evoke optimism and hope in the midst of adversity soon became an official motto chanted repeatedly by officials on the island and its population.

It has been exactly a year since Hurricane Maria made landfall creating havoc in the Caribbean, specifically Puerto Rico. The nearly Category 5 hurricane destroyed a countless number of homes – including my own father’s home – leaving millions of Americans without essentials such as running water, power and shelter. Maria earned the title of the strongest storm to strike the island since San Felipe II in 1928, claiming the lives of 2,975 people, according to an independent study from George Washington University.

Puerto Ricans who directly experienced strife and witnessed turmoil have compared their situation after Maria to a war. Living in the 21st century, the lack of access to technology or basic necessities is inconceivable, yet this is the situation all Puerto Ricans had to endure and one that remains ever-present in certain parts of the island.

I spoke with freshman Juliocesar Viguera Pacheco, a Puerto Rico native, on his thoughts on the recovery efforts and the changes he observed after having experienced Maria firsthand.

“A year later, there are people with blue tarps over their houses. They are not properly covered when it rains. It is not a healthy way to be living. While the majority of places have power, there are still people who lack it. Many people and businesses left the island after the hurricane. It is not known whether or not they will return,” he said.

Blue tarps, issued as a 30-day fix to homeowners without roofs, continue to be visible around the island even after a year. After 11 months in the dark Puerto Rico’s electrical grid was partially restored, but remains vulnerable to another hurricane. Some communities continue to run on generators.

According to Vox, “New data from the Puerto Rico Institute of Statistics shows that a net total of 150,000 people left the island in fiscal year 2018.”

Pacheco is extremely grateful that Maria did not affect him as drastically as it did to others on the island. He mentioned how thankful he was that he and his family did not experience severe damage. The hurricane did however delay his application process for college as his school was closed for a month and a half. His school, one of the two Lasallian schools in Puerto Rico, was visited by volunteers from Manhattan College who provided resources and assistance as needed.

Despite the island’s major humanitarian crisis in the wake of Maria, Puerto Ricans have remarkably demonstrated the quality of resilience and how to remain united.