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Puerto Ricans Students Call for More Focus on Hurricane Maria Relief

After the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico late last month, Puerto Rican students at Boston College are calling for action from the school and its students.

On the heels of other huge storms earlier in September, Maria was the 10th-most-powerful storm ever recorded in the Atlantic and the cause of tens of billions of dollars in damage throughout the Caribbean. The hurricane has left all of Puerto Rico without power. After some saw the U.S. federal government response as lacking, Hurricane Maria was the source of some tension over the weekend between President Donald Trump, who defended the U.S. response, and San Juan mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz.

At BC, some students had trouble contacting their families and had minor damage at their houses. The hurricane hit Puerto Rico as a category 5 storm on Sept. 20, and it rained for about three days after that, an onslaught of water and wind. Carolina Tiru, MCAS ’20, said that major media organizations were initially only covering what was going on in San Juan, the capital, as opposed to where she lives, about an hour away in Ponce, P.R.

As of early last week, Tiru hadn’t been able to contact her family, although because landlines were still working, her cousin was able to get through to her other cousin in New York. She finally got through to them seven days after the hurricane, but there is still no signal most of the time. They’re contacting her through her grandmother’s landline. Three of the windows in her house were broken, and there was a bit of flooding, she said.

“I know so many people that are not paying attention to what is going on,” Tiru said. “There should be more being done.”

Mali Mongil, MCAS ’20, didn’t have any damage to her house, although they had no power or generator. Her parents actually flew to the U.S. because her sister is looking at colleges, but she hadn’t been able to talk to her extended family as of early last week because the communication lines were down.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Mongil said. “Looking at pictures of places I used to hang out with my friends, it’s completely flooded up to people’s knees.”

“I came here thinking that this is my second home and that I’m part of a community, and I just feel they haven’t been able to back me up,” she added. “I feel like my only support are my fellow Puerto Rican friends who have been suffering the same thing.”

Ignacio Fletcher, MCAS ’20, presented to the Undergraduate Government of BC’s Student Assembly about what students can do in response to Maria. He highlighted the problems with getting fuel for cars or food at grocery stores.

“The attitude right now in Puerto Rico is that they’re very optimistic,” he said. “Once you’re in the bottom of the pit, the only way to go is up.”

Tiru has a flight for Thanksgiving break to go back home, and plans to do some work with relief groups. Mongil said the hurricane won’t stop her from going home.

All Campus Ministry collections are going to hurricane relief. BC will have a University-wide Mass Tuesday for all the recent natural disasters. One student, Arturo Balaguer, MCAS ’21, had raised over $2,600 on a fundraiser as of Sunday night.

“It’s not the first time a hurricane has hit us this badly, however, it sucks not being there,” Tiru said. “It’s sad. It was a beautiful place.”

Featured Image by Hector Retamal / Agence France-Presse

October 1, 2017