Puerto Rico students find refuge after storm at University


Shannon McMullen/Contributing Writer

The world watched in horror as Hurricane Maria slammed into Puerto Rico. Many cannot begin to imagine what the people who call the island home are going through. However, three Puerto Rican students studying at FIU can vividly recount the exact moment the hurricane hit.

“It was like nothing we had ever experienced,” said Ricardo Neco, a sophomore majoring in finance. “When I went out of my house, you could see most of the houses with[their] garage doors all flown out. That had never happened in our neighborhood. That’s the first signal that something was not normal.”

Neco described the loud noises, trees being uprooted from the ground and everything being sucked into the wind. He said he had to crawl into a bathroom at three or three in the morning because of the sounds.

Sarah Colon, a junior majoring in chemistry, had a similar experience.


Omar Jimenez and Sarah Colon. Photo courtesy of Natalia Farfan/PantherNOW

“I live in Corazon, which is a town in the center of the island, and the hurricane hit pretty strong,” said Colon. “Even my front door…I thought we were going to lose it. We were just holding it, and then water started getting inside my house.”

For Omar Jimenez, a junior majoring in biology, the hurricane’s aftermath was unexpected.

“I wasn’t expecting that much damage,” Jimenez said. “The first few days we were concerned about how we were going to find water and food. We were not seeing a lot of help, so people were scared. We didn’t know where Puerto Rico was going.”

Colon, Jimenez and Neco left Puerto Rico soon after the hurricane hit. However, they didn’t plan on attending FIU. Originally, Colon and Jimenez were going to stay with relatives in Miami until their houses were repaired; Neco with a friend in Orlando.

Eventually they found their way to FIU.  Colon said she saw that FIU was giving an in-state tuition waiver. Jimenez said he saw that Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, was offering Puerto Rican students a chance to finish their semester there. Neco said a friend told him about FIU, which led to him switching his airplane ticket to Miami.

“When I came here, I didn’t have any plans. I was just grateful that I was alive, and that my family was all right,” Colon said.

Her family is safe, Colon said, but there was a time when she couldn’t get in contact with them.

“The communication has been getting better, but my first days here I didn’t have a lot of communication with [my family], so I was a little bit concerned about them,” Colon said. “There were people dying of leptospirosis, [which] is when you drink water that isn’t clean. They were dying. I was concerned about that.”

The communication improvement, according to Neco, is due to the power being restored in some places, and cell phone towers being connected.

In the midst of these worries, FIU has welcomed Puerto Rican students to offer support.

“The University has given me everything I need. They gave me the opportunity to continue my studies and I have met wonderful people that are there helping me out,” Colon said. “They gave me a full scholarship. I needed it…Puerto Rico is cheaper than here. We pay 55 dollars per credit, and so we don’t have the money to come here.”

Studying at the University of Puerto Rico has proven to be difficult after the catastrophic damage done to the campus where Neco, Colon and Jimenez were all studying at before.

“My friends are going to the University of Puerto Rico, and they tell me it’s horrible. The conditions they’re studying in are horrible,” Neco said.

Colon said students at UPR are studying outside in the sun without electricity or water. She said she has five friends in Puerto Rico filling out the scholarship and waiting for it to be approved.

Colon said she has already befriended other students at FIU who have come from Puerto Rico, and they are all helping each other adjust.


Featured image courtesy of Flickr

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