Six months later, Puerto Ricans remain without homes, electricity, and many questions on how they will move on following the destruction of Hurricane Maria. In the early aftermath of Hurricane Maria, most Puerto Ricans were left without clean water, electricity and homes to live in. Reminiscent of Hurricane Sandy, lines for gasoline were very long, […]
Six months later, Puerto Ricans remain without homes, electricity, and many questions on how they will move on following the destruction of Hurricane Maria.
In the early aftermath of Hurricane Maria, most Puerto Ricans were left without clean water, electricity and homes to live in. Reminiscent of Hurricane Sandy, lines for gasoline were very long, and gasoline was in short supply. “Most people needed gas for their generators and their cars, but they only would sell you $10 [worth],” says Puerto Rican native, Pablo Reyes. According to FEMA, a month after Hurricane Maria hit, only 69 percent of Puerto Rico had potable water, about 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s power grid was restored, and only 439 homes received roofing help. Although grocery stores began to open, they were not necessarily stocked with food.
Pablo Reyes, together with his wife, have lived in Puerto Rico for most of their lives. Reyes, a retired cobbler, lived through many hurricanes and many other natural disasters. However, all paled in comparison to Hurricane Maria: “I saw [Hurricane] Hugo, but Hugo didn’t [cause] the catastrophe that we had now…we had winds about 85 miles an hour. When Maria touched my hometown, Isabela, [winds raged] 180 miles an hour,” says Mr. Reyes. Both he and his wife braved the winds inside their home, as the storm took 23 hours to pass. Mr. Reyes witnessed trees falling over and flying debris as his neighborhood was pounded by the relentless winds. “[We] saw many houses blow [away]. Many houses were made of concrete, but some were made of wood and they blew away,” Mr. Reyes says. Supplies were low, and Mr. Reyes’s family—His two daughters, Rosa and Mildred, and his son, Pablo Jr.—were becoming worried about their parents’ well-being. According to Mr. Reyes, Puerto Rico’s airports were out of operation for two weeks. Mr. Reyes’s daughter, Rosa, eventually arranged for her father and his wife to take a Humanitarian flight off the island of Puerto Rico. Mr. Reyes and his wife left their homeland, which was now in ruins, and came to stay with Rosa in her home in Queens, New York.
Five years ago, New York City was devastated by Hurricane Sandy, resulting in damages estimated at 19 billion dollars statewide, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The destruction left by Sandy had barely subsided and a new wave of devastation came in the form of Hurricane Harvey, which destroyed the city of Houston, and Hurricane Maria, the most powerful hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 85 years. The aftermath of Maria had many Puerto Ricans seeking refuge in NYC.
Woodside’s elementary school, P.S. 229, welcomed five students who were forced to migrate to New York. Zahra Khan, a New York City elementary school teacher, licensed in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, received one of those students in her class. In the last two years, Ms. Khan has received several students who were uprooted from their homes. Ms. Khan, who speaks multiple languages, takes a hands-on approach to her students. “The English Language Learning program is an emergent program, where a kid sits there and literally is expected to learn the language. I feel it is so counterintuitive in such a diverse city. We can use research-based strategies, like using your first language as support,” Ms. Khan says. Ms. Khan also puts an emphasis on being friendly and welcoming. “The warmth and affection of a teacher is very important. Kids don’t have their parents or both their parents. [The students] need to feel love,” says Ms. Khan.
The possibility of Ms. Khan’s student returning to his home in Puerto Rico does not seem likely. “His house was destroyed, the entire neighborhood; I don’t think [his family] can go back,” explains Ms. Khan. Ms. Khan talked about how her school helps kids who are not “well off” and how the Parent Teacher Association collects clothing and canned goods that are made available to students in need. According to seafarers.org, The Department of Education has gotten involved through Operation Agua, where AFT (American Federation of Teachers) helps raise funds to buy water filtration systems that are sent to Puerto Rico.
After 85 days, Pablo Reyes returned to Puerto Rico. “I think by next year this time everything will be ok,” Mr. Reyes says. “The United States are working; they are giving us tremendous help…they care about [Puerto Rico]; they care about the people,” Mr. Reyes says.
Though recovery is still underway in Puerto Rico, people such as Ms. Khan, are helping the victims of Hurricane Maria. Ms. Khan began to collect and recycle bottles with the help of her students. “Yeah, I always give them [the students] things to do, I always empower them,” Ms. Khan says. Ms. Khan got the idea from another teacher and hopes to inspire other teachers to do the same. “When you give people power, including kids, it’s amazing what they can do,” Ms. Khan says. The proceeds from recycling will be donated to Operation Agua. The United Federation of Teachers’ efforts are substantial. According to NBC-2.com, “Operation Agua has raised $1.5 million to purchase and distribute 100,000 individual water filtration systems.”