Written by Alessa Frenkel
“Our history and our island will count their days as ‘Before Maria’ and ‘After Maria’.” I will never forget these words my mom said to me after we realized what disaster had overcome Puerto Rico in a matter of hours. Unfortunately, she is completely and utterly right.
This article is one that’s probably the dearest to my heart and different from what we usually report on. It is also something that we need to report on, must not forget and direly need to address.
The last couple of weeks have been hard – on Puerto Rico, on the borricuas living there including so much of my family and on those of us who remain outside with little to even no communication to our relatives in some cases. Not a day goes by where I don’t see my Puerto Rican mother, who was born and raised on the island, cry out of helplessness and sheer pain. So, in no other words but the unfortunate hard truth, I want to paint a picture of what has happened and what is still happening in the very second, you’re reading these words:
On September 20, 2017, Puerto Rico was hit by Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 hurricane with winds up to 150 mph and counting as the worst natural disaster in the history of the island to date. Not only did the eye of the storm with a width of incredible 45 miles hover and linger over Puerto Rico but it also soaked it with rain en masse. What Maria left behind, is nothing but a humanitarian crisis and a shocking realization that Puerto Rico as a whole was and still is destroyed. In the words of my mother: “Puerto Rico isn’t the Puerto Rico I grew up in anymore.”
91% of the island was without power, houses were completely blown away, brooks that kids like my mom used to play in turned into rivers with a force to knock over anyone standing in their way. To this day, the death toll lies at 48 and is expected to rise.
Right now, there is still no electricity in most parts of the island, little to no gas to fuel cars with, food to hand out to people is scarce and there is no drinking water. What does that look like? It means people have no way to withdraw money from ATMs cause they’re not functioning due to lack of power leaving them with no way to buy the little food there is left on the island. Banks are giving out $300 per household for an entire month and money is running out fast since people aren’t even able to go to work.
Streets are destroyed or flooded so that many areas cannot be reached and provided with basic necessities like water, food supplies, vital hygienic products and medicine. Imagine having to ration the little food you have left because you don’t know when you’ll have access to more. More than 1.2 million Americans aren’t even able to flush their toilets because there is no running water.
Unfortunately, with situations like this it is only a matter of time until diseases break out and spread across the island. According to CNN, “Two people have died of leptospirosis, a disease that spreads when the urine of infected animals gets into drinking water […]. Four deaths in the storm’s aftermath are being investigated as possible cases of leptospirosis.”
On September 30, the mayor of San Juan, Carmen Yulín Cruz Sonto, stated: “People are dying in this country. I am begging, begging anyone that can hear us, to save us from dying. If anybody out there is listening to us, we are dying, and you are killing us with the inefficiency and the bureaucracy.”
It will take $90 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico since unfortunately we are in a deep deep economic crisis on top of the aftermath of Maria. It’s disgusting that the same weekend as Hurricane Maria, President Trump decided to address the NFL instead of a part of his country that was (in Carmen’s words) dying.
And when all words fail, music always speaks and has always spoken in history. To raise awareness and money, Hamilton creator Lin-Manuel Miranda recorded a song with any Latino star you know called Almost Like Praying.
Additionally, last night, celebrities like Jennifer Lopez, Marc Anthony, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Ellen DeGeneres and many more came together for “One Voice: Somos Live!”, a telethon to raise money for Puerto Rico as well as other areas that were recently impacted by natural disasters. It was a star-studded event with many performers such as Daddy Yankee, Nicky Jam, DJ Khaled and Bruno Mars who sang a Spanish version of Just The Way You Are.
So now, what do people like you and me do? First of all, we can’t look away and we must not forget because rebuilding the island will take months and months. And second of all, if you have any dollar to spare, even if it’s just simply $1, it will help provide basic human necessities to someone in Puerto Rico. And lastly, if you know anyone with any kind of connection to Puerto Rico, reach out to them and show your support. Speaking from experience, a little gesture of love goes a long long way.
This is my island. This is my family. This is our world. We need help.
For more information or to donate, click here.
Listen to Almost Like Praying below.