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Puerto Rican-born Springfield College students cope with hurricane effects

A Category 1 hurricane recently ripped through Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, the Caribbean and even made its way up to the coast of Canada. Although it was just a 1 on the scale, Hurricane Fiona caused major destruction to the places it hit, especially Puerto Rico, which was still recovering from the damage left by Hurricane Maria five years ago. 

Hurricane Maria is regarded as the worst natural disaster to affect those regions, as it reached Category 5, and leaves lasting damage years after it touched down. 

Puerto Rico was destroyed by Maria. Cities and towns were unrecognizable, the infrastructure of roads needed serious work and according to an independent study conducted by the government of Puerto Rico, almost 3,000 people were killed. It was one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. 

Springfield College students Giancarlo Carrion Peral and Mariela Perez-Colon both grew up in Puerto Rico, and witnessed Hurricane Maria and what it did to the island first-hand. 

Fast forward to today, and the people of Puerto Rico are forced to face yet another catastrophe. With the destruction from Maria still lingering, Hurricane Fiona hit that much harder. Carrion Peral and Perez-Colon were not home this time, as they were on campus a thousand miles away in Massachusetts. Despite the distance, they still know how much this hurricane affects Puerto Rico even five years after Maria. 

“Even though it was a Category 1 hurricane, the damage was still pretty bad because we had Hurricane Maria five years ago, which has been the worst hurricane in the history of the island. It just completely destroyed the infrastructure on the island, so we haven’t been able to completely recover from that hurricane,” said Carrion Peral.

Carrion Peral is from San Juan, which is on the northern coast. His home was not within the area that was impacted the worst, and he is thankful his parents back home did not have to experience Fiona at its full force. 

“The center of Puerto Rico wasn’t hit as hard as the shorelines, obviously, so the people from the Southwest specifically, they have a higher percentage of lower income communities down there, those were the ones that were hit the hardest out of all,” Carrion Peral said. 

Similarly, Perez-Colon lives in Caguas, an area that was farther from the worst of the damage. Caguas is south of San Juan, and has a high elevation so floods were not a major issue for her family. 

“I live up in the mountains so the flooding wasn’t that bad but the wind is pretty hard. That’s mostly what damages where I live. Trees all over the roads, electrical cables down on the road and there’s water surrounding it so that is dangerous,” Perez-Colon said. 

Despite them not being present for this hurricane, they both are still feeling for the island and its people, especially knowing what it was like after Maria. Their experiences helped them to appreciate their communities and how it made them come together in times of need. 

“At least with Maria, everybody kind of came together and that showed the island’s strength, and the people,” Perez-Colon said. “I didn’t have electricity for five months, so me and my neighborhood would always come together and go to a house that had a better electrical plan, we would make food for everyone.”

It is difficult for them to watch what is going on back home. Even though they are not there, they have seen on the news places they call home totally destroyed. It is stressful for them knowing there is little they can do to help from such a distance.

They both recognized the silver lining that can come from something like this, though. They remember seeing the companionship and togetherness that their communities exhibited in the wake of destruction. They know that now in the aftermath of Fiona that the people of Puerto Rico will lean on each other to come out of it stronger. 

“Puerto Ricans, we found out we were very resilient…I think that’s when we were like, ‘Oh, we can get through anything if we stick together and respect one another and help each other,’” Perez-Colon said. 

Carrion Peral and Perez-Colon certainly have a unique story compared to many other students at Springfield College, most of whom come from New England and surrounding U.S. states. The pair has not only experienced a natural disaster that many might never see, but realize that tropical storms and hurricanes are a part of normal life in Puerto Rico. 

“I would tell my friends here that in those years I would take a shower with buckets,” Perez-Colon said. 

Carrion Peral continued, “People who have not experienced a hurricane would hear our stories and be like, ‘Wow, that’s insane,’ but from our perspective living in Puerto Rico, it’s how we’ve adjusted to living through these natural disasters.”

Photo Courtesy of NPR

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