UConn community ready to help people affected by natural disasters

Martha Roman of Tampa is reunited with her sister Millie Fernandez after she arrived in West Palm Beach, Fla., from Puerto Rico on Tuesday, Sep. 26, 2017. (Calla Kessler/Palm Beach Post via AP)

It’s been a week since Hurricane Maria hit the US territory of Puerto Rico and crippled the island, leaving it with no power lines, no telephone lines and a number of people, including University of Connecticut students, waiting to hear from their loved ones.

“Uncertainty, that’s the best way I can describe the situation. Uncertainty because we haven’t been able to communicate with my great grandparents, uncertainty because I don’t know if Puerto Rico will be able to recover,” said Juwan Rosa, a third-semester psychology major.

Rosa’s grandparents live to the north of San Juan in Utuando, in el campo (farmside) of Puerto Rico, and although Rosa is thankful because his great grandparents were not directly hit, the isolation is making it even more difficult for him and his mom to contact their family members, he said.  

“We’ve tried calling them, there’s not internet, we’ve tried Whatsapp and other apps, hoping to hear from them,” Rosa said.

Puerto Rico is not the only place that has been affected by a natural disaster. Last week Mexico was hit with a 7.1 magnitude earthquake that caused damage to Puebla and the Mexico City area. Two other earthquakes followed in the days after.

This coincides with the 32-year anniversary of Mexico’s deadliest and most well-known earthquake that killed 10,000 people and injured 30,000.

Joaquin Sanchez, a seventh-semester finance major who is part of the UConn Mexican Association, said most of his family was in Mexico City at that time, but thankfully they were all fine. However, many buildings were destroyed, Sanchez said.  

With both of these tragedies hitting the Latino community, Fanny Hannon, director of the Puerto Rican/Latin American Cultural Center (PRLACC) and some Puerto Rican staff are planning to host a meeting on Thursday to find ways to help Puerto Rico.

“Our focus is to help,” Hannon said. “We have partnered with UConn mental health services to provide a space for students to come and if they need to cry, they can cry and if they need help, we can provide that. We just want them to know they are loved.”

In her six years as director and 15 years in higher education, Hannon has never seen so many tragedies strike all at once, she said.

“It started with DACA, then Harvey, Irma, Maria and the earthquake- it has been hard,” Hannon said.

PRLACC’s goal is to help identify trustworthy organizations that can deliver what is needed to the island, Hannon added.

Puerto Rico had been dealing with an economic crisis and was bordering bankruptcy before the devastation from the hurricane. Estimates say the island will be without power for about six months.

Our focus is to help.
— Fanny Hannon, Director of PRLACC

Political science professor and Puerto Rico native Charles Venator Santiago has been instrumental in thinking of the long-term effects and what is needed, Hannon said. He came up with an Eco kit duffle that contains items that will be distributed by volunteers who will assure they reach the people that need them.

Hannon said she is working with the UConn Mexican Student Association, the Puerto Rican Student Association and faculty to be on the same page and come up with a plan.

Some of the groups identified are Los Ambulantes and Unidos for Puerto Rico.

Although Puerto Rico now faces extensive damage, there’s little help coming from the federal government, according to the New York Times. 

Singer Marc Anthony and Broadway actor Lin Manuel Miranda have tried to convey that Puerto Ricans are also American citizens that need help.

Rosa said the United States government has never seen the federal government help Puerto Rico, even though the United States is part of the reason Puerto Rico has debt.

“The United States government has failed to help and while I want the government to help, I don’t know if they will,” Rosa said.

Rosa added he hopes the images and videos of people looking for their family members drives people to donate and help.

“Everything helps. You don’t need a lot of money, the smallest thing such as spreading information of when to call, where to call is really helpful for the families of those affected,” Rosa said.


Daniela Marulanda is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at daniela.marulanda@uconn.edu.