By EMILY WEIKL
Islands in the Caribbean are well-known vacation destinations. They have pristine beaches, bright blue waters and constant sunshine. But in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, that is no longer the case for Puerto Rico. The hurricane made landfall on the United States territory on Sept. 20 and left destruction in its wake.
“After flying over Puerto Rico on Sunday, CNN’s Leyla Santiago said residents could be seen along the highways searching for a cellphone signal,” CNN reported on Sept. 25.
“The island from above is a completely different color due to the lack of trees,” Santiago said, “while pools are filled with black water and debris. The storm ripped the roofs of houses, exposing their interiors to the sky.”
Puerto Rico’s power grid was almost entirely knocked out by the hurricane, according to the Federal Communications Commission. In addition, 95 percent of cell sites were affected as well, and Puerto Rico’s Gov. Ricardo Rosello said on Oct. 3 that the death
toll reached 34.
Relief, though, has not been swift for everyone on the island. The Associated Press talked to resident Maribel Valintin Espino on Sept. 27, who said that her family is still waiting for help.
“Many others are also waiting for help from anyone from the federal or Puerto Rican government,” they reported. “But the scope of the devastation is so broad, and the relief effort so concentrated in San Juan, that many people from outside the capital say they have received little to no help.”
This devastation is not just saddening for those with roots in the country. It’s personal. One of those people is Dean of Students Vidal Lopez.
Lopez, who was born and raised in the town of Ceiba, one hour’s drive from Puerto Rico’s capital city San Juan, said he feels that the island should be treated the same as other places hit by Hurricane Maria.
“As Americans, I feel Puerto Rico has the right to receive the same assistance and care as any other U.S. Territory in a timely manner,” Lopez said. “I think Puerto Rico has been treated poorly, especially by our president. These efforts should be about saving lives, not about how we look in the media.”
The Washington Post reported that President Donald Trump’s acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said on Sept. 28 that helping Puerto Rico was a “good news story.” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz responded that not much is getting done due to inefficiency. This prompted Trump to reply that, “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.”
In an email to The Equinox, Lopez pointed out that the islands of the Dominican Republic and Cuba sent aid to Puerto Rico before Trump recognized the condition at hand.
“The situation in Puerto Rico was and is precarious,” Lopez said. “[New York] Governor [Andrew] Cuomo went to the island and expressed that the images we were seeing on television did not do any justice to the real devastation [that] the island experienced. It is sad that we are treated as second-class citizens.”
Lopez said that he was able to get in contact with his family 10 days after the hurricane made landfall. Lopez has also sent solar lamps and batteries, since they do not have electricity.
Despite the havoc Hurricane Maria has wreaked, and the uphill battle of recovery to come, Lopez believes his homeland has what it takes to come back.
“What makes me proud to be Puerto Rican is how resilient my people are – how hard we work, we love hard, we celebrate everything, we are caring,” he said. “Puerto Rico, as a community, has accomplish[ed] a lot for such a small island.”