In the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the damage in Puerto Rico is leading some North Carolinians to take action.
Samaritan’s Purse, an international aid organization based out of Boone, has sent its cargo plane on 11 round trips to the Caribbean in the aftermath of the hurricanes. Kaitlyn Lahm, spokesperson for Samaritan’s Purse, said the plane landed on Sunday with supplies for 6,000 families and returned with more supplies to reach another 1,500 households yesterday.
“It’s a desperate situation on the ground,” she said. “There’s a serious need for clean water, food is becoming scarce and there’s a huge need for shelter because most of the homes have been completely destroyed or, if the walls are still standing, the roofs have blown off because of the high winds.”
Lahm said beyond the thousands of families’ homes that were destroyed, the hurricanes also damaged Puerto Ricans’ livelihoods.
“These islands rely on the tourism industry, which is really nonexistent at this point because of the devastation,” she said. “So while we want to provide that physical relief of shelter, food and water, we also want to come alongside the family and remind them there's still hope and encourage them moving forward.”
Industry losses from Hurricane Maria in the Caribbean are estimated to be between 40 and 85 billion dollars, according to reports by AIR Worldwide. Damage in Puerto Rico alone accounts for more than 85 percent of the loss.
Jamie Ramos, a UNC student from Puerto Rico, said of the hundreds of people she knows on the island, she has only heard from two of her cousins.
“The only reason I’ve heard from them is because they have access to Facebook,” she said. “My other family, I just have no idea where they are.”
Ramos said most people she encounters on campus have little idea of how bad the ongoing situation is.
“The problem is that Irma knocked down the hurricane protection the island had and then Maria hit, so it’s completely catastrophic,” she said. “It’s all I’m thinking about all day and everybody else is just going about their business. It’s so stressful.”
Lahm said Samaritan Purse’s relies on private donations to fund its disaster relief efforts.
“We prepare for these kinds of disasters. We’re constantly watching the storms and watching the weather. That’s what enabled us to be on the ground so quickly after both storms.”
Ramos said the federal administration’s response to the hurricanes have exacerbated ongoing tension between the United States and Puerto Rico.
“If you talk to a modern Puerto Rican, they will tell you that we’re basically a colony at this point because not only do we have representation in Congress and we can’t vote for president, but we also have things like the Jones Act to worry about in times like this.”
President Trump’s administration said on Tuesday there is no need to waive the Jones Act, which would lift restrictions on ships bringing disaster aid to the island.
The act was previously waived in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
Ramos said she wishes more people would recognize Puerto Rico as part of the United States.
“I’ve heard a lot of ‘oh, they’re island people and this happens to them all the time,’ but the fact is that they’re Americans,” she said. “And also, why do they have to be Americans for people to care?”
To donate to Samaritan's Purse, visit: https://www.samaritanspurse.org/disaster/hurricane-relief-2017/.
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