Hurricane devastates Puerto Rico, evokes concern in community


Hurricane Maria destroyed parts of Puerto Rico. Photo illustration by Sam Ko

Danielle Spitz


Four backup generators arrived at the front door, ready to be stowed away on a flight to Guaynabo, Puerto Rico. With their help, Diego Ayala’s ’18 grandmother and aunts would have access to electricity again, including a working refrigerator. But before Ayala’s dad purchased his plane ticket, he realized there were complications.

“He could go, so that wasn’t the problem,” Ayala said. “But there was no guarantee he could get back.”

The Luis Muñoz Marin Airport in San Juan, along with the majority of the island, was damaged by the effects of Hurricane Maria, limiting the number of departing flights.

The Category 5 hurricane, which also hit other areas in the Caribbean, has left nearly half of Puerto Rico’s population without access to drinking water and only 11 percent with access to electricity, according to the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

While Ayala said he has appreciated the media’s coverage of the natural disaster, he said he is concerned that more focus is going to President Donald Trump than those suffering.

“The ineptness of Donald Trump has magnified the extent of the coverage,” Ayala said. “There’s always politics going on in any disaster response, and it’s certainly contributed to the response.”

FEMA reported that 31,000 federal personnel responded to Hurricane Harvey in Texas, 40,000 to Hurricane Irma in Florida and 10,000 to Hurricane Maria.

Trump visited Texas and Florida within four days after the hurricanes struck but visited Puerto Rico two weeks after Hurricane Maria reached the island.

Leader of the Latin American/Hispanic Student Organization Daniel Varela ’18 said Puerto Rico isn’t valued as much as other American states because of its territorial status.

“It’s important for Harvard-Westlake students to be global citizens and always stay informed about things that are going on around the world,” Varela said. “We’re such an intellectual community that I would assume that those conversations are happening.”

Fellow LAHSO leader Elena Montoya ’18 said the club is planning fundraisers for those affected by Hurricane Maria and the recent earthquakes in Mexico.

“Even though we are not directly affected, it is still our duty as decent human beings to help those who are in dire need of any kind of assistance that can be offered,” Montoya said.

The cheer team hosted a bake sale fundraiser Sept. 20 to raise money for Americares, a health-focused relief and development organization helping to provide medical services for those affected by Hurricanes Maria, Harvey and Irma.

“I always think of the part of the mission statement, ‘purpose beyond ourselves’ and how can we apply that,” Cheer Captain Maya Golob ’18 said. “This is a perfect opportunity to spread awareness.”