By Mia Staggers
The recent destruction brought on by Hurricane Irma physically and emotionally devastated USF System students and their families. But a week after the storm made landfall in Florida, another Category 4 hurricane, Maria, ripped through the already battered island of Puerto Rico.
The tiny Caribbean island, 100-miles-long, braced and buckled under Maria’s 155 mph winds, powerful rains and widespread flooding. The hurricane left a wake of tremendous destruction, including the electrical grid, which could remain out for the next six months, according to the National Hurricane Center.
For the nearly 140,000 Puerto Ricans who live in Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, this meant weeks of stress and worry as they frantically tried to reach family members across the island.
For Alexis Montenero, a student at USF St. Petersburg, the impact Maria had on her grandparents and cousins has begun to impact her life on campus.
Q: After Maria hit the island of Puerto Rico, how long did it take for you to be able to get in contact with your family who is still on the island?
A: It took an entire week for me to be able to speak with my grandparents and cousins on the island. A week may not seem so long, but when all you know about the situation is how bad the destruction is as seen on the news it made each day harder.
Q: You say that each day was harder when you were not communicating with your family. How specifically did that impact your life here on campus?
A: Each day just seemed to get more stressful. I couldn’t stop thinking about whether or not my family was OK. I saw on the news that this place where my Grandpa and I used to fish was completely destroyed. Then I was worried about whether or not my Grandma still had a house standing or if it was tore apart. It made it hard for me to pay attention in class and at my job.
Q: How did you feel when you were finally able to hear from your family?
A: You know, I thought that once I heard from them I would feel so much better but that was not the case. I was grateful that they weren’t injured and my Grandmother’s house was the only one in her “barrio” (neighborhood) that didn’t get destroyed. Yet, I found out that many of my Grandpa’s instruments that he loved were all lost. There was also this palm tree that was very sentimental to my family and it is now lying on the ground as a reminder to my family how their lives were uprooted too. Many of my favorite childhood places are in ruins and it is just kind of hard to believe. I feel useless because I feel as if there is nothing I can do to help them right now.
Header photo courtesy of Alexis Velez