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Puerto Rican Alicia Blanco Stands Up for Her Home

Right now, there is an SOS alert on the island of Puerto Rico. The blow of Hurricane María has caused massive destruction on the island and the situation there has become extremely serious. Those on the island require urgent care and attention.

A first-year, Alicia Blanco, who is native to Puerto Rico and whose family is still there, shares her concern about her island and talked to me about what’s going on back home.

 

How have you been keeping in touch with people in Puerto Rico?

“I have only spoken to my family four times after Hurricane María hit. People usually walk or drive (if they’re lucky enough to have gasoline) to spots where they can get cell reception. Young people have been using Twitter when they can to communicate and give updates about everything that is going on.”

What are some of the most striking effects that Hurricane Maria has had on the infrastructure of Puerto Rico?

“Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was decades old, but now it’s basically nonexistent. Our power infrastructure was already deteriorating but María completely wiped it out. 97% of Puerto Ricans don’t have access to electricity. High-priority hospitals (11 out of 69) are powered by generators, but diesel is running out. The hurricane knocked out 1,360 out of the 1,600 cell-phone towers in Puerto Rico. The airport started working again, but people will spend nights and days sleeping in the airport to get flights at inflated prices. Most dams in Puerto Rico were built during the 1960’s and haven’t been inspected for years. After the hurricane, dam failure has caused flash floods around the island, especially in small rural villages. One of our main dams, the Guajataca dam, is currently collapsing and people have been ordered to evacuate from whatever is remaining of their homes. But where would they go?”

Are there any relief efforts? And are they working?

“Thousands of generous donations from people around the world will definitely help Puerto Rico rebuild, but as Puerto Rico’s governor keeps mentioning, we need the federal government to mobilize more resources faster. 10,000 FEMA officials landed on Monday, five days after the hurricane. The New York Governor has already visited Puerto Rico, deployed NYPD personnel, and created the Empire State Relief and Recovery Effort for Puerto Rico. FEMA started landing airplanes with supplies on Monday, but the Governor Roselló and people on Twitter are reporting that resources aren’t being distributed efficiently or fairly. The federal administration’s reaction has been slow and silent, and people are beginning to notice a difference between the responses in Texas, Florida, and Puerto Rico. President Trump will visit Puerto Rico, already two weeks after the strike of the hurricane, and recently tweeted the fact that Puerto Rico still owes money to Wall Street and that it “must be dealt with.” After massive criticism across social media, the Trump Administration announced yesterday that military personnel and more ships, including the USS Comfort, a Navy hospital ship, are on the way. The Navy hospital ship will save hundreds of lives from the ongoing danger of running out of diesel for hospital generators.”

How have people responded to the hurricane?

“Like Puerto Rico’s infrastructure, the majority of Puerto Rico’s housing wasn’t built for María’s wrath. Many people lost everything they had, which wasn’t much to start with. There are currently food, water, and gas shortages everywhere and people are getting more desperate as the days go by. Governor Roselló imposed a curfew (from 6am to 7pm) to reduce violence and crimes, but it isn’t helping at all. My mother told me that people are starting to organize groups of people to loot houses for basic necessities around our city, Guaynabo. At 4am, people are already lining up to get food, water, and gas at the risk of being robbed. People can spend up to 48 hours waiting in a line to get anything. Two people died yesterday in a hospital in San Juan because there wasn’t enough gas. The San Jorge Children’s Hospital in San Juan ran out of diesel on Monday, with 12 children depending on ventilators. The ventilators ran on batteries for hours until another hospital luckily offered more fuel. Right now, gas is the priority for hospitals and for citizens.”

How has your family been affected?

“Fortunately, my family is safe and our house suffered some minor damages. However, our family business, a car rental, was looted this week. They took most cars, trucks, wheels, and every gallon of gas that my family was going to distribute among a hospital and our neighborhood. We also owned a restaurant by the beach that is no longer there. Four days ago, my mother and younger brother had to walk around the streets and trade their property, like clothes, shoes, and other supplies for food in order to feed our family while my father guarded the house.”

How can people, specifically at Williams, help?

“I know our community is incredibly aware and ready to raise awareness to every injustice, so I really believe that Williams could help Puerto Rico the same way we tackled the situation surrounding DACA. In the 1920’s, the United States created the Jones Act, a set of laws that requires ships going from and to Puerto Rico to be American. This means that if foreign ships want to deliver supplies to Puerto Rico, they would have to pay high tariffs. Since the federal government has been slow in mobilizing ships and aircrafts, it would be incredibly helpful to at least get a waiver while we recover from the hurricane. Through Vista or other clubs, we could all write letters to representatives and try to push for a waiver. Another thing the Williams Community could do is organize a donation drive or a fundraiser, which I’m working on.”

 

If you want to help Alicia’s family and those affected by the devastation, save yourself a morning cup of coffee and donate to the relief efforts in Puerto Rico at these sites:

Spearheaded by the First Lady of Puerto Rico:

http://unidosporpuertorico.com/en/

UNICEF:

https://www.unicefusa.org/donate/support-unicef-usas-hurricane-relief-efforts-puerto-rico/32952

From the Unicef website, “A donation of just $28 will provide a kit containing basic, essential supplies such as water purification tablets, a water bucket with lid, water containers, soap, toothpaste, detergent and sanitary pads. The supplies will help children and their families keep clean and healthy, protecting them from diseases that can occur after the loss of equipment and infrastructure and the disruption of a safe water supply. “

 

Nica is a Senior at Williams College majoring in Biology and taking pre-medical courses. She is a member of Ritmo Latino and GQ A cappella. Her passions include public health, reading, and yoga.
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