Riding the wave after the storm

The homes of Puerto Ricans were destroyed as a result of Hurricane Maria. Photo courtesy of @USCGSoutheast/Twitter

Nicole Kuhn | Assistant News Editor | The USD Vista

Hurricane Maria leaves an impact on Puerto Rico and the USD community

The sun rises each morning over the rolling hills of Puerto Rico, but the daily routine of the Puerto Rican people has changed. On Sept. 20, thousands of civilians’ homes were flooded and nearly or completely destroyed by  Hurricane Maria. Heavy rain and winds of about 175 mph hit the island, classifying it as a category five storm. The hurricane left some citizens without water, electricity, and/or shelter for months to come.

This isn’t the first time Puerto Rico has been hit by a major hurricane. Over the past few weeks Hurricane Maria has been all over the media. The rise of foreign reporters’ social media usage and instant updates has helped raise awareness of natural disasters that previously would not have gained global recognition.

Lieutenant Jorge Fuentes, Assistant Professor of Naval Sciences at the University of San Diego, was born and raised on the island until he joined the Navy. Fuentes discussed how differently Hurricane Maria has been covered compared to previous disasters.

“A lot of people don’t have the perspective that Puerto Rico has had four major catastrophes in the past 40 years,” Fuentes said. “Twenty years ago we had the same situation, we just didn’t get that much attention.”

Fuentes explained that his mother drove an hour through the mountains to the nearest city that had phone reception.

“My hometown is very remote, 40 minutes from any major city,” Fuentes said. “With a 3,000 foot elevation you have to go through the mountains. The biggest challenge is communication and clearing.”

The people of Puerto Rico face the damage that Hurricane Maria wreaked on their home. Photo courtesy of @Forbes/Twitter

Fuentes was only able to talk to his mother for five minutes.

“All my immediate family is in Puerto Rico — I’m the only one here,” Fuentes said. “There’s no reception where we are because of the storm — no Internet, no phone.”

Sophomore basketball player José Martinez, born and raised in Puerto Rico, faced similar problems when trying to communicate with his family. Martinez was in his room when he first heard about the hurricane from his mother.

“My mom called me saying that I had to make sure I talked to my family because it was going to be the worst hurricane in the history of Puerto Rico,” Martinez said. “It was very sad and scary at first.”

Sept. 19 was the last time  that Martinez said he spoke with his family.

“I haven’t talked directly to my family, but I heard from some family friends that the hurricane didn’t do anything to the house where my family was staying at, which was my father’s house,” Martinez said.

Today some citizens are still without water or electricity. Photos circulate the internet of flooded homes and long lines of people waiting for fresh, clean water.

“I think that the government is working hard, but I also think it took them awhile to start working with Puerto Rico and helping them,” Martinez said. “As a US territory, they were supposed to move faster and in a better way. I also think that the economics topic is something that should be a concern right now for the president of the US. What should matter is that a lot of kids don’t have a place to sleep at, a lot of kids and people don’t have water to drink, and that 1.3 million people don’t have electricity.”

Martinez has hope for Puerto Rico and its ability to get through this disaster.

“Puerto Rico has been used to this — because this was a long time coming,” Martinez said. “The hurricane brought a wakeup call. We’ve recovered before, and we are going to recover again.”

Martinez also said that going forward it’s important for the USD community members as global citizens to be aware that Puerto Ricans are our brothers and sisters.

“I think people need to take a look at what the US has beyond its borders, and you have American citizens everywhere — it’s important to be more conscious of that,” Martinez said.

Today the island still suffers major loss and the relief effort is slowly trickling in. Some celebrities such as Beyonce, Lin-Manuel Miranda, and Pitbull have taken initiative to help Puerto Rico. Beyonce released a remix to the song “Mi Gente” on Instagram for relief efforts. Latin American pop singer Pitbull transported cancer patients from the island to the US to help continue their treatments, and Youcaring, a fundraiser organized by Ricky Martin, raised $2,959,238 for Puerto Rico. Miranda, the writer of the famous musical “Hamilton,” also composed a song titled “Almost Like Praying” that featured famous Latin American artists including Marc Anthony, Jennifer Lopez, and Gloria Estefan to name a few.

According to NBC News, 85 percent of Puerto Rico still has no power.  Martinez is still waiting to hear back from his family.

“I just want them [people] to pray for my family and for my homeland; that’s all I can ask for,” Martinez said.

The US government has stepped in and President Trump has visited the island, but the efforts have been slow for the most part. With help from local communities and relief efforts from organizations, citizens are slowly regaining strength.