Hurricane Maria’s impact hits home for ASU professor

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Maria Cruz-Torres of the ASU School of Transborder Studies talks about the impact of Hurricane Maria and local recovery efforts  in Puerto Rico. She shares her personal experiences from the U.S. territory.


Jose A. Cardenas: Good evening and welcome to "Horizonte." We will have the latest on Puerto Rico and how people are dealing with life a month after hurricane Maria.

I have athletes that come here and they are in shape but struggling because it is a new art form and that is the case with any type of movement that is new.

Jose A. Cardenas: Plus, learn about a unique form of martial arts with a Brazilian twist. And we will talk about a book about Chicano life. All this straight ahead on "Horizonte."

"Horizonte" is made possible by contributions from PBS.

It has been a month since hurricane Maria barreled down on Puerto Rico and the recovery is making sure food and water is delivered. Dr. Maria Cruz Torres is here with the ASU transporter studies. Welcome to "horizonte." you grew up in puerto rico.

Maria Cruz- Torres: Yes.

Jose A. Cardenas: You did your college?

Maria Cruz- Torres: Yes, at the university.

Jose A. Cardenas: And you continue to study and work there. One of the pictures we want to show is from the university. Beautiful picture of building on the university campus. It kind of captures the Puerto Rico that we know. This beautiful island. It is much different now after the hurricane.

Maria Cruz- Torres: It is especially the university of Puerto Rico was damaged. The university has 11 campuses so the picture is from one of the main campuses. I think according to estimation, the whole university system in Puerto Rico, for the university of Puerto Rico, suffered damages around $100 million.

Jose A. Cardenas: We have seen many pictures of the damage but we have one we will put up here that gives you a sense for the damage and destruction that the hurricane caused. Is this a warehouse that was damaged?

Maria Cruz- Torres: This was the church and this is from my cousin and the church he goes to. This is what is happening to his church.

Jose A. Cardenas: You have a lot of family?

Maria Cruz- Torres: All my family. Parents, three younger sisters, uncles and aunts and cousins. Almost everyone.

Jose A. Cardenas: As a result you have become involved with the local Puerto Rican community. We have a picture of people in phoenix working in a warehouse. Tell us what is going on.

Maria Cruz- Torres: This is one of the rewards is we are looking at some positive side to this story and you know people's situation facing Puerto Ricans now is this whole situation, hurricane, the consequences of the hurricane brought many of us together. For me this is very important because I didn't know there was such a Puerto Rico community in Arizona. They are taking the initiative of collecting items and fundraising to be helping people back in Puerto Rico. They are working with local organizations in the island to make sure they get aid especially to fulfill their basic needs like food and water.

Jose A. Cardenas: We have a picture of some of the people with you are talking about. A group picture of the peopled involved in this effort. What kinds of things is the group collecting? How are they getting it to the island?

Maria Cruz- Torres: We collecting everything from food. One of the demands from the food water is the main issue on the island. We are trying to collect water and send it there. People need everything from batteries, baby formula or baby food, mosquito repellent; I think that could help with construction. We are collecting different sets of items. One of the issues we are facing with this organization, the community group is facing, is that it has been very hard to transport all these items to the island because we are very far away. They are fundraising and trying to collect money to be able to either rent a private plane or have some drive all the way to Jacksonville, Florida and ship it from there.

Jose A. Cardenas: You have been in touch with your colleagues at the university there, with your family, and with others. Describe the situation, as it exists today.

Maria Cruz- Torres: It is a very difficult situation right now. For example, where my family lives, the southeastern part of the island where the storm made landfall first and the town is destroyed. People still don't have water or electricity. They have to live hooked to generators to have cold water on a daily basis. There are long lines for people who need to go to the store. Water ratio allowing you to buy certain amount of water at high prices.

Jose A. Cardenas: Give us an example.

Maria Cruz- Torres: My sister was telling me she went to a store on the island and had to pay $30 for a case of water.

Jose A. Cardenas: And long lines to buy gas.

Maria Cruz- Torres: That is the main issue. More people are dependent on generators and need the gasoline also for the generators to function and cooperate.

Jose A. Cardenas: One last picture I want to put up, this is a picture of people there organizing to alleviate the situation.

Maria Cruz- Torres: This is from another town next to my hometown where I have a lot of my friends living. This is a community that began from the ground basically. The idea is to at least provide food to people. So they came out with this idea of creating like a community where people can go one time a day to get some free food.

Jose A. Cardenas: The president has suggested that Puerto Ricans need to do more for themselves. There is a reputation of that, don't you think?

Maria Cruz- Torres: I think people are doing very much with the little they have there in the island right now. There are many organizations that just working also providing food, providing shelter, providing health care to communities that are really far away like in the middle of the island where it has been very difficult to reach those communities. There have been brigades of doctors and other organizations trying to make their way to bridge those communities and bring food and other items.

Jose A. Cardenas: the people you are in contact with what is your assessment of the level of federal aid that has been provided and the timeliness of it?

Maria Cruz- Torres: It is difficult to assess. I think some communities closer have received more aid. It varies a lot. I know people in my hometown, for example, in the community i grew up, they are waiting for FEMA to come assess the damages so they can get some aid.

Jose A. Cardenas: And I heard the estimates to things getting better is months.

Maria Cruz- Torres: Months for electricity to be restored. The governor is saying maybe by December in some areas the electricity would be restored. But in my hometown I think it will take at least until January for people to have electricity.

Jose A. Cardenas: The long term impact of the hurricane on the island. You had an economy in decline already and a lot of people leaving what is this going to do?

Maria Cruz- Torres: I think the situation is getting worse. Many people who work in hotels or factories lost their jobs because the hotels were damaged by the hurricane, people have been laid off from work basically. I know people in my hometown who used to work for places like Walmart are all unemployed. One of the options that people had, one of the last options, is to migrate and come to the United States.

Jose A. Cardenas: Particularly professionals.

Maria Cruz- Torres: Professionals and young people.

Jose A. Cardenas: And that makes the medical care problem worse.

Maria Cruz- Torres: It does. A lot of doctors lived on the island before the island and now it is worse. We are loosing a lot of the young people, the younger minds who actually contribute to build the country. If everybody comes here and they leave the island who is going to stay behind to rebuild the country? This is being a main issue.

Jose A. Cardenas: it is a very difficult situation.

Maria Cruz- Torres: It is.

Jose A. Cardenas: Thank you for joining us to talk about it.

Maria Cruz- Torres: Thank you so much.

Maria L Cruz-Torres: Professor, School of Transborder Studies

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