Nearly five months after Hurricane Maria wreaked havoc in Puerto Rico and permanently altered the lives of those in its path, Puerto Rico is still suffering from long-term effects and lack of resources.
For Denise Ramos, Spanish teacher and Hispanic Leadership Club (HLC) sponsor, Hurricane Maria struck very close to home—literally. Having grown up surrounded by the luscious and beautiful greenery of Puerto Rico until age 16, Ms. Ramos expresses it was heartbreaking to see her home turned to brown. She says the island was void of flowers, trees, and birds—everything was gone.
Ms. Ramos has relatives that still live in Puerto Rico, and for the first three weeks after the hurricane, there were no ways to locate her family or know their condition. With the lack of working cell phones, landlines and electricity, the hurricane stripped the island of all forms of communication. Ms. Ramos says, “They were okay- I knew they were okay, but I just wanted to hear it from them and wanted it confirmed.”
The widespread loss of electricity has yet to be resolved; as of late December, 1.5 million Puerto Ricans remain in the dark. The power outage has not only deprived Puerto Ricans of many privileges and luxuries that much of our country has unknowingly deemed vital to our daily life, but also the bare necessities such as access to money and drinkable water.
With no postal service nor flights in or out of Puerto Rico, Ms. Ramos says that there was an overwhelming feeling of helplessness and frustration surrounding the early stages of recovery because she could not send any aid or resources to her family. She says, “I couldn’t even talk to them or see if they were alive. [I could] just pray that they were ok…It was really tough; nothing was going in from the US for 3 weeks.”
Ms. Ramos says, “There was a 4-hour wait to get money out of bank accounts, with a limit of only $100 per time per person.” Ms. Ramos’s nieces and sister had to wait up to ten hours every other day to fill up only 4-10 gallons of gas. She adds, “people prepared for the hurricane but people didn’t prepare for the devastation and the length at which everything was shut down.”
Ms. Ramos asserts that while the situation is improving, a lot of necessary attention and aid from the US are not being sent to Puerto Rico. During her visit to the island over winter break, Ms. Ramos realized, much to her disappointment, that many places are still in shambles. She says, “I saw electric poles that were down or split in half like toothpicks…the big cement poles were just down on the floor.”
Ms. Ramos discloses that she wishes that the crisis in Puerto Rico be dealt with more appropriately, and soon. For anyone who would like to contribute, HLC will be raising money for such efforts in future weeks.
Ms. Ramos stresses that with the devastation seemingly ever-present on the island since the hurricane, Puerto Ricans have remained strong, resilient, and just as beautiful. She says, “[Puerto Ricans] are hardworking, not lazy. We are survivors, we deal with it.”