By Larry Blustein
As Sally Cruz made her way home from San Juan over the weekend, the Hollywood resident didn’t have stories that would scare or surprise anyone, but she did warn that the infrastructure of the entire country was completely devastated.
With her mother, brothers and more than 10 nieces and nephews living in the hell for the past weeks, Cruz went on a humanitarian mission with others - knowing that her family was part of the entire no electricity, water, food or anything else majority, it was heart-wrenching and something of a reality.
“I cried and cried some more,” she said, still wiping away the tears. “This is third world stuff. People doing what ever they can to survive. No power means no infrastructure and that is a problem.”
When she heard that Puerto Rico - as a whole - would not have power until a week from Christmas - she was angered, but then took a few steps back and understood what you are dealing with.
Suffering from the worst disaster in nearly a century, Puerto Rico, even in 2017, found out what would happen when the worst case scenario takes place.
“Remember back when Hurricane Irma hit here and many were without power for a few days and even a week, and we complained and threatened everyone from FPL to our local elected officials,” Cruz pointed out. “They have nowhere to turn and they will be collectively without power for three months. That is not what happens with human beings. Not with the USA behind it!”
Being that island nation - with no other country that can really help - close by - Puerto Rico has always been set up for something like this, and because there are older structures, plenty at elevation - you have to believe that many cities that can facilitate power will have it back within the next month or six weeks. Those who may have to wait until December are those in remote areas where entire grids have to be built from scratch - and manpower is low.
“The one thing that you also have to remember - especially when I visited my family is that all those first responders, medical personnel, police and fire, power workers, repair people and everyone else is living in the same conditions - without power and in some cases running water,” Cruz explained.
Because life has to go on for so many, you are seeing a large number of Puerto Ricans coming to the United States, landing in places where they already have family - or at least have other people from their country.
Without a massive infusion of federal aid, Puerto Rico will only be able to temporarily fix the cracks but not overhaul the whole system. And with no reserves—the island filed for bankruptcy last May, unable to meet its obligations on a $77 billion external debt—it’s like borrowing from Peter to pay Paul. It’s status as a commonwealth, deprives it of the customary waivers and block grants other hard hit areas like Texas and Florida received after their hurricanes.
It's too soon to know exactly how many have decamped for the mainland, but the state of Florida says: “more than 25,000 have come to the state so far.” There were already about 1 million Puerto Ricans in the Sunshine State, second only to New York.
DOING WHAT THEY CAN DO
Many U.S. agencies and jurisdictions are helping islanders make emergency transitions.
Law schools including Florida A&M and the University of Connecticut have agreed to accept students from Puerto Rico. Miami-Dade County Public Schools have offered to adapt the curriculum and change bus routes to help evacuee children. Florida Gov. Rick Scott has said displaced teachers won't have to pay for certificates to work in his state and ordered that licensing fees for certain professionals such as real estate agents and barbers be suspended for people fleeing the storm.
“When you think about what people are going through - in a place where I grew up and had so many fond memories - it rips away at you,” North Miami Beach resident and Puerto Rico native Elise Santiago said. “That is the hardest part to know the people who are going through this. Really hard.”
HOW CAN YOU HELP?
Hurricane Maria, the fifth-strongest storm to ever hit the United States, roared through Puerto Rico, flattening the island. The 3.4 million Americans citizens who live there had homes destroyed, streets flooded, power grids decimated, widespread internet outages, and dams teetering on the brink of collapse, leaving the country in shambles.
Celebrities rushed to the cause—J. Lo donated $1 million, but there is a lot more work to be done to help our fellow citizens.
But before you give to any fund, do your homework. If you cannot get on the internet, ask someone to look it up for you. Don’t just throw money away. Donate to where the money is going directly to the people who need it - and not some company that may never disperse the funds.