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Puerto Rico continues to suffer

By Rachel Taylor
On October 11, 2017

A couple bathes in the Gurabo River in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, Monday, Oct. 2, 2017. Power is still cut off on most of the island, schools and many businesses are closed and much of the countryside is struggling to find fresh water and food. Carlos Giusti/ AP Photo

As residents of Louisiana, who have a history of suffering from hurricanes and flooding, we may have a better understanding than most the devastation nature can cause. For most Americans though, this kind of tragedy is unimaginable. It’s hard to understand if you haven’t suffered through it yourself.

To try to begin to describe all the damages Puerto Rico faced is ambitious. To summarize though, I would begin by saying that Puerto Rico has 3.4 million residents and every single one was left without power. Not only was their power grid completely destroyed, but ninety five percent of their cell networks went down. We had a taste of this during August’s floods when our AT&T towers went down, but in Puerto Rico, 48 out of 78 networks were unusable. This has gone up slightly, and now only 37 are down.

I was personally in an area affected by the AT&T towers that were down back in August, and I know just how nerve wracking it can be to be unable to contact family members. I was finally able to send text messages by connecting to Wi-Fi, but with power still being out in most of Puerto Rico, there are families that still haven’t been able to reach each other. I cannot begin to imagine how heartbreaking it must be to not know if your family members are even alive. This is the reality for the people of Puerto Rico.

Unfortunately, the citizens of Puerto Rico continue to suffer with help and recovery being a long and stilted process. The problem is exasperated with Puerto Rico being an island, which means that supplies have to be either flown or shipped in. 

There are currently 4,500 troops present to assist in recovery efforts, and the Army Corps of Engineers is working with the Coast Guard to open ports on the island that were damaged by Hurricane Maria. The Army Corps of Engineers is also frantically working to prevent Puerto Rico’s dam from rupturing after it had been compromised by Maria. If the dam does rupture, it will release 11 billion gallons of water into the towns below.

The question is though how much help is enough when human lives are on the line?

Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan spoke at a press conference and said, “I am going to do what I never thought I would do. I am begging, begging anyone who can hear us to save us from dying,” 

Cruz went on to say, “We are dying, and you are killing us with inefficiency and bureaucracy.” 

When I heard this, my heart went out to her because I know how frustrating it can be to wait for government help. When you are suffering, waiting for help is an impossible task. I remember my streets being filled with trash, and we waited for it to be picked up. I remember my family’s home had no walls or bathroom, and we waited for assistance from the Louisiana Shelter at Home Program. I remember when we finally had walls, but we waited for insulation. We slept on air mattresses under multiple blankets to keep out of the cold.

However, not everyone was so sympathetic to Cruz’s plea for help. Shortly after, our President Donald Trump sent out a series of tweets. 

They said, “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump.”

The next tweet read, “...Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They....”

“...want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

I suppose President Trump saw Cruz’s pleas for help as a personal attack. I’m not going to quibble over who is in the right, because in the end it is irrelevant to the larger issue. There is a serious problem in this country that we have allowed ourselves to become so blinded by vitriol for one another that we would allow it to distract us while people suffer. We have allowed party lines to divide us. I want to ask: Is providing financial assistance a strictly liberal stance? More importantly, does it even matter?

When we flooded in August, I saw everyone coming together to help each other. We were all suffering. Churches provided food and cleaning supplies. The state government provided Shelter at Home. My neighbors took up residence in a FEMA housing trailer. We cried together and we survived together, but it seems people will only come together when the tragedy directly effects them.

Why? As Americans, we may embody the competitive spirit of this country too well. Neither side wants to concede when they’re in the wrong. Honestly, I have no respect for a person who can’t admit when they’re wrong, and will not take the steps to better themselves. Yet that seems to be everyone. We’re so desperate to be right, to win against our opposing party, that we forget that the other party is made up of American citizens as well.

On that note, I just want to say this: Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, and has been since 1898. This means that citizens of Puerto Rico are also United States citizens. Regardless of your political leanings, wouldn’t the American thing to do be to help fellow citizens? 

Of course, I shouldn’t discount those that do want to help, but are unsure how. The truth is that anyone can help. Many organizations are taking donations right now, among them being: United for Puerto Rico, Americares, International Medical Corps. Every little bit helps, and as residents of a state that know too well what Puerto Ricans are going through, I hope we can show them that there are people who care.

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