Hurricane Maria, the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928, hit the U.S. territory September 20, nearly two weeks ago. As of October 4, only 5.4 percent of citizens on the island have electricity and 12.1 percent have cell service according to a statement from the U.S. Department of Defense. SCAD students from Puerto Rico or with family and friends still in territory have continually asked one another the same question: “Have you heard from anyone?”
Sophomore animation major Antonio José Cintron Rivera is from Ponce, a city and a municipality in the southern part of Puerto Rico. Rivera said his home is safe but without power, which has made it difficult for him to contact his family.
“My family is doing okay, but they lack water and food,” Rivera said. “They have to wait hours and hours to get water and food from the supermarket, which led to a new problem which was gas. The line to get gas is just as immense as the line to get in the supermarket.”
Rivera said he was, like many of his Puerto Rican peers at SCAD, devastated at the destruction of the storm on the island. Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico during Rivera’s first week at SCAD and in Savannah.
“My mind was completely torn apart and my heart felt a hundred times heavier,” Rivera said. “All I could do was think about my family. Facebook was my main source of information. Some Americans were kind enough to help my country in their desperate time of need and post pictures of Puerto Rico’s disaster. Honestly, I couldn’t believe that the pictures I was looking at were of my island. It was almost apocalyptic.”
According to Rivera, the stress and worry he experienced occupied more of his time than school assignments. Rivera said his professors and classmates were very considerate and asked how he and his family were doing.
“They helped me relax and helped me concentrate on other things for which I am forever grateful,” Rivera said. “As soon as the hurricane hit Puerto Rico, I immediately texted my best friend from Puerto Rico who studies at SCAD as well about my worries. We were utterly terrified. Hurricane Irma was scary enough, but when Maria was announced, we were losing our minds. One hurricane after another? We were afraid of what might happen to our families and friends, but we kept in touch and made sure that we were always okay.”
Senior motion media design student Alvin Martinez of San Juan, Puerto Rico said it was seeing images of his high school in ruins that triggered the biggest emotional response from the storm.
“I grew up in that high school, it was from kindergarten all the way through twelfth grade, so it was like a whole lifespan in there basically,” Martinez said.
Similar to Rivera’s reaction, Martinez said the aftermath of the storm was nerve-racking, especially when it came to contacting family and friends on the island. According to Martinez, Puerto Ricans do not take hurricanes lightly.
“We were joking around saying, ‘Well if I don’t hear from you guys, Happy Christmas, Happy New Year and Happy Thanksgiving,’ because it was an unfortunate truth. It was that anxiety of knowing where everybody was, what they were doing and if they were alive or not, but luckily all my friends and family are safe which is really good.”
Martinez said 40 percent of the island has water or never lost water during the storm. However, according to Martinez, there are people on the island struggling to catch rainwater, particularly in the metropolitan areas.
“People are helping each other out which is really good to see,” Martinez said. “Unfortunately, there are some people who take advantage of the situations, tampering with the progress for their own self-gain which is disgusting. My friends are fine. My uncle is still living on the island, and my grandparents were on a business trip and they got stuck, but they’re fine.”
Martinez said that the people of Puerto Rico are appreciative of the aid they have received thus far, and the media has been depicting storm relief efforts accurately. Puerto Ricans need supplies, Martinez said, but getting the supplies to the people has been anything but easy.
“There are some roads that are inaccessible,” Martinez said. “There were huge landslides that destroyed a lot of bridges that connected some municipals together. It’s not a matter of we need supplies because I know people are very critical of being like, ‘Well the port is full of supplies,’ but we don’t have any drivers. In order to execute this legally, we need legal truck drivers.”
Many students, according to Martinez, forget Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory home to 3.5 million people. He said students should strive to read not just a headline on Facebook but further research on the state of the island and its politics.
“Everything that is shared and read, you always should take it seriously, but also do your research, because a lot of people can share things that aren’t necessarily true in light of pushing their own agenda,” Martinez said.
“Never diminish a catastrophe, no matter what the number of deaths are. That is not a measurement.
Be aware of fake news, and don’t take things for granted. We’re all human. This doesn’t necessarily affect you directly, but it affects those around you. The thing is one day it could be you, and your neighbors are going to be the ones who have ultimately made the decision to help you or not depending on what kind of person you are, and that’s not the world we should live in, but unfortunately that’s the world we’re living in right now.”
Students and those interested in contributing to Puerto Rico’s relief efforts can visit United For Puerto Rico, an organization created by Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s wife Beatriz Rosselló, meant to provide a way for anyone to help victims in Puerto Rico.
Written by Emilie Kefalas.