As you may have seen on the news, Hurricane Fiona affected Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic in September. But too often after a major storm, media coverage focuses on the direct impact and not the ensuing humanitarian and economic crises.
As a Puerto Rican student who lived through Hurricane Maria in 2017, I know this all too well. I clearly remember how terrifying the storm itself was. My family was worried about nearby flooding in the neighborhood, water was entering our house through the roof and we could see pieces of scrap metal and metal flying in all directions. But once the storm passed, the feeling of fear gave way to that of isolation.
The consequences of the storm felt equally dangerous, with homes and infrastructure destroyed, many without power for months (for some it was an entire year), and no certainty as to what would be left of the storm. ‘economy. And while that was a pressing reality for many in Puerto Rico, I remember feeling the disconnect between the crisis in my country and the coverage it would get after the storm.
I’m afraid the same thing will happen in Fiona’s wake. There is a crisis in the Caribbean, and we must not forget the people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Part of that is making an intentional effort to educate yourself on how the crisis continues to unfold.
When Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, it was actually the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria. The moment Fiona hit the island, only 30 percent of reconstruction of Hurricane Maria was underway; over 3,000 houses still had tarps rather than roofs.
Fiona initially hit Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane, with peak wind speeds of 85 mph. Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was not ready to withstand Hurricane Fiona. The devastating amounts of flooding and accompanying landslides have destroyed homes and put many people at risk. Dozens of people had to be rescued by the National Guard, but some municipalities were too isolated to be reached. According to CNNthe death toll associated with Fiona is currently at 25, but will likely increase as we learn more after the storm.
On the day the storm hit, no Puerto Ricans had power and many had no water. While water has been restored to most places, restoration of the power grid has been much slower. Puerto Rico’s energy grid has been a contentious issue for a long time – it has been chronically underinvested and unreliable. Currently, LUMA Energy, the private company in charge of Puerto Rico’s energy network, is in the face of much criticism for the slow resumption of services.
By the time the storm arrived in the Dominican Republic, it had increased in intensity to a Category 2 hurricane with wind speed up to 110 mph. Many provinces on the island have declared states of emergency, with warnings of flash floods, mudslides and vulnerable infrastructure. Thousands of people have been displaced as homes have been badly damaged or destroyed. Evacuations from dangerous areas were common and temporary shelters saw an influx of residents.
Although Fiona was the first major storm to hit the island since Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, essential services were severely disrupted, including power, water and cell service. Water services have yet to be fully restored on the island. The impact on telecommunications means that there is a lack of information; less is known about the consequences in the Dominican Republic compared to Puerto Rico.
The people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic cannot expect their governments to be quick and efficient in the recovery process. Grassroots organizations stepped in, providing essential services to people in their communities, including electricity, water and reconstruction aid.
But these organizations need funds. After the hurricane, I felt a certain disconnection with the crisis, since I had not experienced it with the rest of my family in Puerto Rico. However, I feel uniquely privileged and placed to do something about it. A group of Puerto Rican students and I, alongside groups like Vista, Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA), and the International Students Association (ISA), are committed to raising awareness and funding for these vital organizations. Since Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted housing in both countries, we will be raising funds for Techos Pa’ Mi Gente in Puerto Rico and Cambiando Vidas in the Dominican Republic – both of which aim to help people rebuild their homes after a hurricane for free.
While it is important to learn about the crisis in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, that alone is not enough. Williams College students have the ability and the responsibility to help. Announcements of our fundraising events will be coming soon, and I invite all of my fellow students to come out and support the people of the Dominican Republic and my country as they face this crisis.
Clara Ramírez Trelles ’24 is a History and Political Science major from Cupey, Puerto Rico.