Puerto Rican students at Quinnipiac University worry, plan response as Hurricane Maria approaches island

HAMDEN — Quinnipiac University senior Shelma Morales used Facetime Tuesday to communicate with her cousin, Desire Nuñez, in Puerto Rico as the island braces for a potentially catastrophic strike from Hurricane Maria.

“She was very nervous,” Morales said. “She has two young kids.”

Electricity was scheduled to be cut off in her cousin’s area Tuesday evening, Morales said. A biomedical science major at Quinnipiac, Morales has family in Gurabo and Caguas, which are located near the eastern portion of Puerto Rico. Her grandparents, aunts and cousins live in the two cities, which are located near Maria’s path.

“I feel like a lot of people are still hoping that it’s going to change trajectory, but the margin of error is so small that it’s very unlikely,” Morales said.

Morales said there are people on the island who may hear about approaching storms but take a light-hearted approach to their arrival. Many Puerto Ricans are used to living through tropical storms, including Morales, who grew up there and has lived in Connecticut for nine years.

“We’ve had hurricanes pass and tropical storms pass and they haven’t done much damage,” Morales said. “So whenever they announce one, (some people) they’re like ‘Oh, you know it’s not going to do anything,’”

But taking Maria lightly may not be a good strategy. Morales said her family is taking Maria very seriously.

“This one is going to go through right Puerto Rico,” Morales said. “They’re trying to store a lot of food, they’re trying to stock up on everything that they can.”

WTNH Senior Meteorologist Fred Campagna said Tuesday evening the hurricane was a Category 5 storm located about 185 miles from Puerto Rico. It was expected to make landfall on the Virgin Islands Tuesday night.

The hurricane will likely strike Puerto Rico sometimes between late morning to early afternoon Wednesday. Campagna said the eastern part of the island will likely get the worst of the storm.

“Most likely, it will be a Category 4 hurricane, with winds at approximately 150 miles per hours,” Campagna said “It looks like it could be devastating, for at least part of that island, unfortunately.”

What makes Maria’s devastation potential greater than Irma—which Campagna said was as strong if not stronger—is Maria’s eye. It will pass directly over Puerto Rico, while Irma made “fringe” contact with Puerto Rico.

“It’s definitely a much worse situation than what they had from Irma,” Campagna said. “The storm will pass directly over the island; Irma did not.”

Morales and Mia Martinez, a junior from North Haven who is majoring in physical therapy at Quinnipiac, said their family’s situation is compounded by Irma’s aftermath, as people are still recovering.

“The thing that’s making me most nervous is the fact that there’s a lack of resources,” Morales said. “Just because, with the past hurricane, with Irma, the supermarkets…everything was taken off the shelves.”

Martinez said she has family in Arecibo and Las Piedras, with the latter being located near the eastern part of the island. She said she expects both of her family’s hometowns to be affected.

“They’re still struggling and trying to get over the whole Hurricane Irma,” Martinez said. “It looks like they’re both going to be hit pretty hard.”

Both Morales and Martinez said they would participate in meetings with student groups at the university, including the Latino Culture Society, to strategize over how they can possibly provide a response to the storm. Two weeks ago, Irma’s impending landfall prompted a state-wide coordination from the Connecticut Puerto Rican Agenda and Latino elected officials in the General Assembly.

“We do try and kind of raise awareness,” Morales said. “A lot of people don’t even know that much about Puerto Rico. So it’s hard; it’s hard to raise awareness.”

Despite having no power or running water, Martinez said her family in Puerto Rico will likely stay in place in response to Maria, since they don’t really have another area to evacuate. The entire situation is sadly familiar, Martinez said.

“I am relatively calm,” Martinez said. “I am keeping my faith. I think that we’ll be OK , we’ll get through it. But of course it is nerve-wracking, a hurricane of that magnitude. I think we’ll be OK . We’ll get through it.”

Reach Esteban L. Hernandez at 203-680-9901

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