I spent two weeks deployed in Puerto Rico after La Isla del Encanto was impacted by Hurricane Maria, the 10th most intense storm ever recorded in the Atlantic. I arrived in Puerto Rico on September 27th, seven days after the storm made landfall. Puerto Rico, the beautiful island where my mother was born and raised, was destroyed and left without power.
- Puerto Rico was impacted by two category 4-5 hurricanes in the span of two weeks. (For reference, Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina, the costliest storms in U.S. history, made landfalls as category 1 and 3, respectively.)
- The entire island lost power and telecommunications after Hurricane Maria. When we arrived, all of the island’s elected officials had not been accounted for because telecommunications were compromised. Communication was, and continues to be, a huge challenge for the relief efforts.
- Puerto Rico’s economy and infrastructure was weakened, long before the storms. The unemployment rate in Puerto Rico is more than double that of the national average and Puerto Rico’s population has been in steady decline since 2000.
- Federal resources and attention are stressed; Currently, 85 percent of the FEMA workforce is in the field supporting 28 disasters nationwide.
- This year marks the 100th anniversary of Puerto Rican U.S. citizenship. Yet, a recent poll found that only 54% of Americans knew Puerto Ricans were fellow citizens at the time of the storm, and therefore, nearly half did not know that this was a matter of domestic concern.
Everyone Has A Role To Play
“I invite you to consider why Puerto Rico is in the current state of disadvantage and inequality… Think of Puerto Ricans as your own constituents …It is a moral imperative because we are all U.S. citizens, but more importantly, because we are all equal as human beings. And if we don’t, because of the inequality that exists… that presumption of Puerto Ricans as your constituents might come true because of the massive exodus that it will provoke… I implore you to forget the fighting and focus on outcomes…Be part of the generation that helps Puerto Rico come out of this stronger than ever…”
Who will be there for the better and stronger Puerto Rico?
- Donate: Donating cash is generally better than donating in kind after emergencies. This allows flexibility so the money can be spent on determined needs, which change quickly over the course of a response and recovery. Suggestions:
- Unidos Por Puerto Rico
- Hispanic Federation, “Unidos” (you can also support this initiative with Lin Manuel Miranda’s Almost Like Praying)
- Somos Una Voz
- Resilient Power Puerto Rico (Coastal Marine Resource Center)
- Call Congress to advocate for a flexible aid package for Puerto Rico and to help repeal the Jones Act.
- Join or spread the word about openings at FEMA, including local hurricane recovery work opportunities for survivors.
- Stay informed and updated on the situation in Puerto Rico as the response and recovery evolves.
- El “Centro”, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies at Hunter College has a platform for updates.
- This Miami Herald article offers the most comprehensive overview on the response that I have seen so far.
- Help spread accurate information about available services, such as the opening of a Service Center in New York City for those affected by recent hurricanes.
- Learn about the history of Puerto Rico – the contributions and the sacrifices of its people.