For most University of Miami students who reside in the United States, the main concern in anticipation of Hurricane Irma was evacuate and safety from the storm. However, for other students, Hurricane Irma and its successors, including Hurricane Maria, exceeded mere concern after both ravaged their home countries.
Senior Paula Landrón was in her native country of Puerto Rico over Labor Day weekend, right before Hurricane Irma hit its western coast. Landrón said, in the days leading up to Irma, everyone was calm, but she advised her family and friends to prepare, even if they didn’t think the storm would hit them directly.
Landrón, who left after Labor Day to come back to Miami, said as Irma barreled toward the island, more and more people in her home country began to worry. However, the worst of the storm narrowly missed the island. Landrón, who resides in San Juan when not at UM, said Puerto Ricans began donating all of the food and supplies they had collected in preparation for Irma to victims in other Caribbean islands who suffered complete devastation.
With windspeed up to 185 mph, Irma made landfall on Barbuda, leaving the island in complete disarray. The storm left nearly 95 percent of all the buildings on the island destroyed or partially damaged.
However, Puerto Ricans didn’t anticipate that they would need the supplies they gave away only a week later, when Hurricane Maria turned into a Category 5 storm within hours.
“What we did was give all of our leftover supplies to the people at the islands because they were destroyed, so what happens when Maria comes,” said Landrón, a psychology major. “When Maria comes we don’t have enough supplies because we gave them all away, so people start panicking.”
The panic was not unwarranted. Hurricane Maria pounded the island Sept. 20 with wind speeds of 155 mph. More than 95 percent of the island lost power. Landrón said her friend called living conditions after the storm’s impact “apocalyptic.”
“First, the atmosphere is super sad,” Landrón said. “Second, no one can believe it. No one can believe this has happened. This has not happened since 1923, a hurricane of this magnitude that has passed through the island.”
Landrón said those left on the island are struggling to escape the devastation, including two UM students. She said both students, senior Christian Lausell and sophomore Natalia Cañellas, have been unable to return to Miami after fleeing to the island in preparation for Hurricane Irma.
“After classes got canceled where else are they going to go,” Landrón said. “They just went back home like everyone else would do.”
According to the University of Miami’s 2016 Fact Book, there are over 120 students from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean islands in UM’s student body.
Before the hurricanes hit Puerto Rico, they plowed through the small island of Dominica. While Irma mostly missed the island, Maria left more than a dozen dead and the majority of the island’s infrastructure completely destroyed after making landfall Sept. 18.
Dominican sophomore Franciesca Astaphan said her family was unprepared for what it experienced.
“They were expecting a Category 3, but it increased so rapidly and without much warning,” said Astaphan, a sports administration major. “It was a scary experience for my family. Imagine being in your house and start seeing the upstairs floor of your house starts to get flooded, that’s when they realized that half way through the hurricane, a piece of their roof flew off.”
With a Category 5 storm came a shortage of water, food and electricity. Astaphan said, like Puerto Rico, only certain areas of the island were left with cell service.
Astaphan said, since Dominica is a lesser-known island, she said she wants to bring attention to the damages which she called “devastating” and encourage students to donate to a GoFundMe she created. As of Sept. 25, over $300 has been collected. The funds will be used to buy supplies to send to the island.
Students from colleges and universities across the nation have come together to create a GoFundMe page with a goal of $100,000. So far, nearly $70,000 has been collected. Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon donated of $20,000, one of the most significant contributions.
For Landrón, seeing Puerto Ricans living in the United States come together to help their country is “beautiful.”
“We’re not just going to sit down and do nothing,” Landrón said. “We’re going to make it happen. Puerto Rico is going to shine more than ever before.”
Featured photo courtesy Flickr user Oscar Rohena.