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I Know You’re Fine, But Puerto Rico Isn’t

A little over a month ago, Puerto Rico was mauled by two devastating Hurricanes, Irma and Maria. And while Boston may have experienced no more than lengthy rain showers, Puerto Rico endured much worse. Now, amidst the response from President Trump and the lack of electricity, which still plagues most of the island, I sat down with one of BU’s Puerto Rican students to hear what the past month has been like for her and her family

Isabel Palou is a sophomore, majoring in Communications with a focus on Public Relations and has lived in Puerto Rico her whole life. Isabel and her younger sister, who studies in Philadelphia, have left their mother, father, and the rest of their extended family in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Isabel says that in the days leading up to Hurricane Irma’s arrival, her parents were actually visiting her in Boston. But, when news reached them that the Hurricane was growing in intensity, they rushed back to Puerto Rico to prepare.

Puerto Rico experiences and views hurricanes in the same way that Boston views snow storms. They’re a common occurrence. “Usually there’s one to two hurricanes a year” from around June to November. However, they’ve never been this destructive.

Hurricane Irma, while predicted to be dangerous, didn’t cause as much damage to the island as Hurricane Maria would hours later.

Knowing that Maria would have a stronger impact on the island, Isabel spoke with her parents on the night of the 20th. The eye of the Hurricane was expected to go directly to San Juan and Isabel’s mother wasn’t sure when they were going to be able to speak with her again.

On the morning of September 21st, Isabel “woke up… and hadn’t heard from her parents.” She didn’t hear from them for more than eight hours (consider the time difference) and Isabel remembers trying “to call them, to call them, to call them,” while considering the fact that San Juan was now directly under the eye of the storm.

While the most violent portion of the storm had hit San Juan during the 4 AM to 6 AM window, it wasn’t until the end of the day that Isabel finally received a call from her mother, whose cell phone had poor service before. After being reassured that all of her family and friends were safe, Isabel then inquired about the state of their house and the country itself.

Isabel says that the place was destroyed. Trees had fallen, houses torn and ripped to their foundations and the island was completely without electricity, food, or water. The Palous, who own a food distribution company called Mendez Co., were sending all their products to the surrounding areas to try and feed those who were left with nothing. With fresh water being extremely limited, many were taking from places called Manantials, which are pools of water located around the island. This water isn’t always clean enough to drink from, but for many, especially those located in the poorer parts of the island, there were no other options.

As we have witnessed, the United States government has been extremely slow and reluctant to help the struggling country. President Trump and his advisors/supporters warrant this withholding of aid as being due to the island’s significant debts. 

“It’s so disrespectful and insulting,” said Isabel, referring to President Trump’s reluctance to send help. “We’re just as much a part of the United States as any of the states.”

Isabel worries about what it will be like for her once she returns home. While her house was lucky enough to survive the storm, her parents, aunts, and uncles are all living in their grandparent’s house to save money on gasoline.

With limited electricity throughout the island, many families like the Palou’s have no choice but to use a generator. However, generators require gasoline which is in high demand but low in supply. Isabel’s father has had “to wake up around four in the morning to wait in line at the gas station” in order to buy gas for their grandparent’s generator.

Isabel doesn’t know what she’ll find when she goes home in December. The Puerto Rico that she has grown up with doesn’t exist anymore and has been replaced with devastation. All of the places that mean home to her will be different — if they’ve been rebuilt at all.

 

Isabel and her family are some of the lucky ones. Thousands of other families are desperately trying to restore their lives to the way they were before the Hurricanes, but are struggling to do so. If you’re interested in donating to support Puerto Rico and the relief efforts there, here are some great funds to consider:

United for Puerto Rico

The Red Cross

Hispanic Federation

Gabriella is studying English at Boston University and is a member of the class of 2020. Her past times include reading, watching tv, working out, and spending time with friends! Gabriella loves going to school in Boston and spending her weekends exploring the city and taking advantage of all the free events it offers, but she also really misses her Jeep. Favorite book: The Great Gastby. Favorite T.V. Show: Gossip Girl.
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