UT Students React to Devastation in Puerto Rico


Maria is the largest hurricane that has hit Puerto Rico since 1929. The Puerto Rican government has recorded 16 fatalities, but warns that there are vast areas still to be reviewed, including nine municipalities that are currently without any communication because of the lack of power. With economic losses in billions of dollars, UT students from Puerto Rico discussed their families’ situations and how the US has ignored this tragedy.

Paola Duarte, a junior international studies major said that many of the things that are appearing in the media are untrue. “My family is telling me that there is no gas, no food, no water and the media is saying the opposite,” Duarte said. “Puerto Rico is a US colony, and we are not having any help from the government.” Duarte said that because of the Jones Act, the U.S does not allows another country to help Puerto Rico except for them.

According to an article by Business Insider, “That means any foreign ships delivering goods to Puerto Rico — a US territory — are subject to steep tariffs, driving up the prices of consumer goods. President Donald Trump took action Thursday, waiving the act temporarily for Puerto Rico at the request of its governor. The White House said the waiver could take effect immediately.”

According to Duarte, Puerto Ricans are begging the government to remove that law, at least for now. However, the US government has rejected the petition.

The Business Insider article also mentioned that “On Wednesday, Trump told reporters that he was “thinking about” granting Puerto Rico a Jones Act waiver. But he quickly added, “We have a lot of shippers and a lot of people who work in the shipping industry that don’t want the Jones Act lifted, and we have a lot of ships out there now.”

“Currently FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) is there, but what they did is remove people through the backdoors of the shelters, so the media couldn’t see, and now FEMA is sleeping in shelters and Puerto Ricans in scholar busses,” Duarte said.

Duarte said that part of her family lives in Carolina, a municipality located on the northeast coast of Puerto Rico. Although her family lost the backyard storage, her house is safe; the rest of her family was not so lucky.

“My grandmother in Puerto Nuevo, lost her house. Likewise, my other grandmother from Levittown lost her house too and one car; the water literally touched the ceiling,” Duarte said.

Duarte said that she feels a mix of sadness, anxiety, and frustration about not having any messages from many of her friends and family.

“I did not know for several days if they were good, if they had food. It is sad that the place where you lived 19 years is completely destroyed,” Duarte said.

Sabrina Cabrera, a sophomore creative writing major, whose family lives in Carolina as well, said that although her family is safe, they still faced complications when the storm hit..

“My mom and brother live in an apartment building and although they were in the highest floor they got flooded,” Cabrera said. “At first, they stayed there, but then things got complicated and they went to my grandparents in El Encantado, which was not that bad.”

With the streets filled with water and lack of power, the situation for Cabrera’s family was never stable.

“When my grandparent was trying to fix the roof he fell off. My family had to drive him to the hospital because the ambulance could not get there,” Cabrera said. “Also, my mom is diabetic and it was very frustrating because she could not keep her insulin refrigerated.”

Charlotte Navarro, a senior Biology major has been able to communicate with her family in Carolina. However, she does not know anything about her other relatives on the island.

“I can’t even speak with my family. There is no signal, there is no communication,” Navarro said. “I spoke with one of my best friends. I can’t call her; I have to wait until she calls me. She told me that during Maria they felt that their house was going to blow away, the winds and sounds were very strong.”

Navarro said that the only thing she knows is that her family in Carolina is fine, but the family she has in Levittown lost their house, the new cars, clothes – everything.

“Also, I have family in Utuado, Mayagüez, San Sebastian, and in Maricao and I don’t know anything I don’t know if they are okay, if they are in danger, or if they are lost,” Navarro said.

Navarro never imagined seeing Puerto Rico in this situation and although the material things are not that important to her, it still hurts to lose things that her family had acquired after years of effort, sacrifice and time commitment, she said.

“I cry every time I see pictures. Puerto Rico was such a beautiful country, and its economy is not good at the moment, so it will take a lot of time until everything is back to normal,” Navarro said.

On Tuesday, October 3, from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Charles Martinez, ‘16, was in

UT’s bookstore with the organization he created, “TU Puerto Rico,” (Your Puerto Rico) receiving donations from students, professors, and staff members from UT.

“When Hurricane Maria arrived to Puerto Rico I was desperate for look any way to help my country. I thought then, that I have the responsibility to started something, so I had the idea of

“TU Puerto Rico.” Martinez said. “It is basically an organization for facilitate the donations of funds, food, and supplies to take them to Puerto Rico.”

Martinez is going to have other stands these days in different areas of Tampa, like USF and Radiant Church in South Tampa.

“I contacted lawyers Networking Leads, currently they are helping me with everything, they are going to contact the military airplanes to take the donations,” Martinez said. “We started with the funds, but we also have a lot of pampers, can food, water, towels. Today, we have more  than 100 donations.”

Veronica Sansur can be reached at mvsansurzapata@spartans.ut.edu


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