BUZZ: Two Islands

By on October 11, 2017

Puerto Rico National Guard members are assisting communities as Puerto Ricans try to get to their homes in the flooded area after the path of Hurricane Maria. ( PHOTO Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos/PRNG-PAO via flickr creative commons)

A Jackson resident and Puerto Rican native works to help one of her islands rebuild.

JACKSON HOLE, WY—They say that living in Jackson is like living on an island.

If that’s true, then Lina Collado has lived on two islands, one of which was just devastated by the most powerful hurricane to hit its shores in 30 years.

Hurricane Maria has left all of Puerto Rico without electricity. It tore the walls off of Collado’s sister’s apartment, and the roof off her brother’s house.

“The destruction is something out of a war zone,” Collado said.

The Puerto Rican native is safe in her land-locked island home in Jackson, but as soon as the hurricane hit, she knew she had to do something. Then as she watched the federal government do nothing, in her eyes, the urgency grew.

“FEMA is not reaching communities,” she said. “The money the government keep saying it’s sending, is not seen. It’s extremely frustrating.”

So Collado organized her own drive to make even a small dent in relief efforts. It’s up to Puerto Ricans living in the states, she said, to do the work the U.S. government has not.

Collado collected donation items last Monday through Wednesday at the Teton Literacy Center before finding another Puerto Rican living in Jackson (there are a lot, she’s learning), Andy, with the same idea.

They combined forces, and sent the first box to Aguadilla on a private plane provided by an NGO helping with relief. The the second shipment began its journey last night, stocked with 600 bottled waters, nine boxes of diapers, canned food, baby formula, mosquito repellant, hygienic goods… the list goes on.

“Being so far from home, I didn’t know what else to do,” Collado said.

And watching the news isn’t providing any relief. The Trump administration has been under scrutiny for not doing enough, quickly enough, in the wake of such a devastating storm.

Trump has requested an additional  $12.8 billion for Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) disaster fund, and $16 billion for debt relief for the federal flood insurance program. But Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló requested another $4.6 billion last week “to meet the immediate emergency needs of Puerto Rico,” he wrote in a letter made public last week.

Meanwhile, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yunlín Cruz has repeatedly criticized the president for turning the disaster into a publicity stunt. In a visit to Puerto Rico last week, Trump joked that Puerto Rico had “thrown our budget a little out of whack,” and said compared to Hurricane Katrina, Hurricane Maria was hardly a disaster.

“You can be proud,” Trump said, that only 16 people had been confirmed dead, compared to the “hundreds and hundreds and hundreds” of people that died in Katrina and its wake.

Trump was also broadcast while throwing rolls of paper towel out to a Puerto Rican, much like a concert hype-man throwing out band t-shirts. He tweeted that Puerto Ricans “want everything done for them.”

In fact, Collado said, Puerto Ricans have done everything. They have no choice.

“[Trump] said Puerto Ricans are sitting and waiting,” Collado said. “That’s the farthest thing from the truth. They’re going out, helping their families, their neighbors. They’re not sleeping.”

The Trump administration did lift the Jones Act for 10 days. The nearly 100 year old act, written in response to World War I German U-Boats, mandates that foreign ships carrying goods and passengers into Puerto Rico must either pay tariffs and taxes, the burden of which falls on Puerto Rican taxpayers, or dock in Jacksonville, Florida and transfer all of the goods onto an American-made ship with an American crew. The cost, in both cases, falls on Puerto Rican residents.

According to the New York Times, the cost of goods shipped to Puerto Rico from the U.S. is at least double that for neighboring islands.

But the 10-day suspension expired Sunday night, which means that Puerto Ricans will once again have to pay higher shipping costs to import relief goods. Arizona Senator John McCain drafted a bill to permanently do away with the Jones Act, and told HuffPost it is “more important than ever” to make the bill a law.

Collado sees McCain’s bill as one of the “only things that can help us.”

“The island is already broke,” she said. “Now its devastated.”

Collado’s friends and family back home are safe, for now. She plans to travel home as soon as she can to provide hands-on, boots on the ground relief.

“I can’t wait to go home,” she said, though she admits she doesn’t know how to fully prepare herself to see her home in ruins.

“It’s a very shocking reality,” Collado said. She can hear the devastation in her family’s voices when she reaches them on the phone.

“You want to start crying,” she said. “But you can’t. You have to get up and do something.”

Her family’s strength is transferrable—it gives her strength, too. The burden of relief has fallen on Puerto Ricans, but they can handle it, she says.

“We have to keep fighting, keep working our butts off,” Collado said. “I think it’s up to us.” PJH

The goods drive is over, but Collado suggests making relief donations to the Maria Fund MariaFund.org.

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