The eye of the storm hit the island at 7:30 a.m.
A family awoke to their shaking home, barraged by 150 mph winds. They ran for cover and looked for any nook to hide in.
The son locked himself in the closet. His mother, typically good at hiding her emotions behind a strong exterior, trembled as she called her daughter, who was 1,500 miles away in Bethlehem.
They spoke for a few minutes before the connection cut out. Her daughter didn’t hear from her again until three days later.
When she did, she heard the news. Houses, neighborhoods, towns.
These are Puerto Ricans who have been devastated by Hurricane Maria. These are American citizens.
Some people aren’t able to grasp this. In a poll of 2,200 American adults, only 54 percent knew Puerto Ricans are just as American as they are. The reality is, they’re no different from any of us.
Texas was declared a national disaster after Hurricane Harvey. Florida was declared a national disaster after Irma. Puerto Rico was declared a disaster after Maria.
But we’ve treated one of them differently.
Puerto Ricans, our fellow Americans, are waiting in 13-hour lines to buy water and gas. Roads connecting villages in the mountains have been destroyed, cutting off rescue attempts, even from helicopters. Airlines have waiting lists of up to 20,000 people attempting to flee the island before the crisis worsens.
People have been trapped in their homes, debris blocking any attempt to escape. Americans have died in intensive care units run on steadily-dwindling gas generators. Forty-five people are confirmed dead. Long-term estimates reach into the hundreds.
Our government’s response to this humanitarian crisis is disturbing. It doesn’t seem to be making Puerto Rico a top priority.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency is providing 200,000 meals a day to meet the needs of 2 million people. FEMA officials aren’t giving any details about distributing supplies to remote regions that experienced the worst of the storm.
Our government is prioritizing its budget over the lives of its citizens. News organizations mention the island’s $70 billion debt before the livelihoods of 3.4 million people.
“Dammit, this is not a good news story,” San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz said. “This is a ‘people are dying’ story. It’s a life-or-death story.”
Yet our fellow Americans are steadfast in their determination. When they can, they cook meals for neighbors in need. They remain calm in the face of tragedy. They help each other as soon as they’re physically able.
The people of Puerto Rico are proving their resilience. We have a responsibility, and we are failing them.
We are failing Americans when they need us most.
Listen to Cruz. The citizens of Puerto Rico don’t need kind thoughts. They don’t need prayers. They don’t need paper towels.
Puerto Ricans need donations. They need food. They need help restoring the basic needs in their lives.
Without major government assistance, they only have other Americans for support.
Without Americans providing support, they have nothing.
If you’d like to donate, visit https://www.gofundme.com/studentswithpr. We would like to thank Andrea Pacheco, ’18, for sharing her family’s experience through Hurricane Maria.