For three Elon University students, going home for Fall and Thanksgiving Break will mean facing a new reality on the island of Puerto Rico. 

Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico Sept. 20., two weeks after the island was barraged by Hurricane Irma. The recovery is estimated to take years and cost $30-60 billion. As of Oct. 2, 16 people have been confirmed dead by Maria, while 30 remain missing. Meanwhile, the majority of the island is still without power and lacking access to basic necessities such as clean water, fuel and food.

“I don’t think I’m emotionally prepared to see my island destroyed,” said sophomore Ana Ford, who will return to her family in Puerto Rico for Thanksgiving break.

Ford’s father sent her a video of her childhood playground, now covered in downed power lines and palm trees. 

Senior Sofia Wensel said she, too, is unsure about the state of the home she will be returning to.

“My dad says it looks like a bomb exploded,” Wensel said. “The infrastructure is completely destroyed and there is chaos in the streets. My neighborhood and home are okay, thank God. My house has damage, but nothing that will not be able to get replaced and fixed later.” 

“I think Puerto Rico is going to be 100 percent different than how I remember it,” Wensel said.

The majority of homes in junior Ana Garcia’s neighborhood were spared, because of their concrete foundations, but the neighborhood is flooded, and Garcia does not know when she will be home to see how her island has changed. Her parents plan to visit her for the holidays, as flying home is too expensive because of the mass exodus of high priced flights leaving the island. 

Junior Kevin Vergne said he knows even less. He has been kept almost completely in the dark as the power outages around the island have limited his conversation with his family. 

“My house had minor damages,” Vergne said. “Most of the vegetation and trees in my neighborhood are either disappeared or laying on the streets. My neighborhood is still without power or running water.”

Though supplies have been arriving to the island from regular distributors and emergency aid organizations, the damage to roads and bridges has made transportation difficult, cutting off those who live toward the center of the island. 

“People are dying of hunger, thirst, and the economy has come to a complete halt ... lack of proper distribution of necessary products on the island is detrimental,” Wensel said. 

Ford, who lives closer to the coast, said her family has one of the only generators in their neighborhood, and her parents are welcoming people into their home to take showers, but access to fuel for generators is coveted. 

Ford’s father went to buy gas at 6 a.m. and waited over an hour for access to the pumps.

Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz criticized President Donald Trump’s response to the situation in Puerto Rico during a press conference Sept. 29. 

Cruz asked the United States for help. “We’re dying here — mayday,” she said. 

Her statements were countered by a barrage series of tweets from the president, challenging Cruz’s leadership skills in the crisis.

“The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump,” Trump wrote. “Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

His response angered many Puerto Ricans, including Vergne who questioned Trump’s leadership skills. 

“His comments about Puerto Rico denote that he is unfit for the office of the President and has a total disregard to the lives of the 3.4 million U.S. citizens that live there,” Vergne said. “You can call it ignorance, racism or incompetence, but no doubt he doesn’t have an idea of what a humanitarian crisis is and the meaning of solidarity and compassion.” 

Wensel said the majority of the island does not plan on welcoming Trump to the island this week.

“He has no interest in helping the people of Puerto Rico,” Wensel said. “I believe he is only going to the island to make a political statement because Congress has been pressuring him into doing what is ‘right.’” 

Garcia feels the same way “I don’t want Trump’s idiotic tweets to outshine our humanitarian crisis,” Garcia said. “Trump is doing what he does best: he’s putting up a smoke screen and neglecting to talk about the real issues going on in Puerto Rico.” 

Ford said she hopes that help arrives to the island, regardless of Trump’s actions.

“My hope is that Trump starts doing his job properly instead of trash talking Puerto Rico on Twitter because we really do need help,” Ford said. “People are dying … We need food … We need clean water.”

The territory’s debt currently exceeds $70 billion. Now facing extensive repairs, citizens are hoping the U.S. government will provide assistanzce. 

“We are U.S. citizens, and the people in the states need to help us … like they would help anyone else on the mainland,” Ford said. 

“We pay the same federal taxes as those residents who live on the mainland and it’s imperative that we receive equal attention and service from FEMA.” 

On Monday, Jon Dooley, vice president for student life and dean of students, addressed the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in an email to the student body. 

Citing damage in both Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, Dooley encouraged students to donate money to relief organizations, especially student groups on campus. 

Student groups are collecting donations in the Moseley Student Center starting Wednesday morning. Cash, credit and Phoenix Cash are accepted. Donations, including diapers, sleeping bags and bug spray will also be collected.

Dooley also listed multiple groups supporting Hurricane aid, especially Unidos por Puerto Rico, and a national student organization, Students with Puerto Rico, on
GoFundMe.


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