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Belmont Puerto Rican families still struggling after Maria

Over a month after Hurricane Maria hit, the families of Puerto Rican Belmont students and faculty are still struggling to get basic necessities.

Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane on Sept. 20. In many parts of the island, there is still no running water or electricity. The devastation is so bad that some people have had to completely relocate.

After weeks of struggling to meet their basic needs, some of Belmont associate professor of theology Manuel Cruz’s family had to move to Texas.

“We didn’t hear from them for a week or a week and a half. And in the weeks to come we heard they felt they had to leave,” Cruz said.

The relocation revealed to Cruz how serious the situation had become.

“I hadn’t conceived that things may be so bad that it just might be time for people to cut their ties and just start over,” Cruz said.

Hurricanes aren’t uncommon in Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans are accustomed to losing power or water for a few days or a couple of weeks following a hurricane, Cruz said.

But Maria was different.

“It has been over a month. And it knocked out all forms of communication. There was a lack of access to being able to have a phone call and say, ‘I’m OK. We’re OK,’” said Cruz.

Belmont student Gabie Nicchitta, echoing the stance taken by San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz, doesn’t think that the government has done enough to help the people of Puerto Rico.

“The big cheese people in the government have not moved fast enough,” Nicchitta said. “The government has just as much obligation to Puerto Ricans as to people impacted by Harvey. They are American citizens.”

Nicchitta has family who lives in Hatillo, a municipality on Puerto Rico’s northern coast.

“I cannot even imagine what these people are feeling. The family I have is in a nice area. If they can’t get power or water, I cannot begin to imagine what other families are struggling with,” said Nicchitta.

Frankie Diez, another Belmont student who used to live in Puerto Rico, is still trying to accept what happened.

“The fact that this could happen is unbelievable,” Diez said.

Diez is still dealing with the images of destruction he saw on television — particularly a video he saw of his former caretaker and her house.

“I have been in that house. I have been on that street and now it is just completely flooded,” Diez said. “It is completely destroyed.”

Despite the devastation the hurricane brought, the people of Puerto Rico are sticking together. There is still hope on the island.

“Knowing how the people are there makes it a little better,” Diez said. “Even though all of this is going on, they don’t let it get to them, and everyone on the island feels that way.”

Cruz also suggested there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is because of the people going to the island to help.

“On a brighter note, I have a friend who in the wake of the hurricane went down and volunteered for a couple of weeks,” Cruz said. “There are persons who are assuming responsibility outside of the government.”

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