I Visited Puerto Rico: A First-Hand Look at What’s Happening and How You Can Help

by Christina Madera

It's no secret that Puerto Rico has had it hard lately. In 2017, Hurricane Maria tragically took the lives of at least 3,000 people and caused $90 billion in damages on the beautiful island of Puerto Rico. Although post-hurricane efforts were devastatingly slow; after 2 years of recovery, the people hoped that things could finally move back to normalcy. 

Shortly following the new year, the world was informed of ongoing seismic activity occurring in the southern part of the island. Puerto Rico was being struck by an earthquake swarm. It’s been reported that the region has been hit by earthquakes every day this month. Here’s what we know (according to the U.S. Geographical Survey):

  • January 6, a magnitude 5.9 M earthquake struck southern Puerto Rico causing the destruction of a natural arch, a tourist attraction at Punta Ventana in Guayanilla.

  • January 7, a magnitude 6.4 M earthquake struck southern Puerto Rico, the biggest earthquake in a century, killing one man and leaving 3.2 million people without power. Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and activated the Puerto Rico National Guard. The White House also approved $5 million in federal emergency relief.

  • January 11, an aftershock of 5.8 M magnitude struck southern Puerto Rico.

In the midst of it all, on January 18, an entire warehouse of unused aid from Hurricane Maria was uncovered. They discovered expired baby formula, cases of water, cots, and other emergency supplies. The negligence of the government stirred political uproar and the Puerto Rican people took to the streets to protest against the governor. 

When a tragedy like this happens, we are often left feeling saddened, confused, and wondering what we can do to help. Organizations such as Catholic Charities, Foundation for Puerto Rico, and the Hispanic Federation are accepting donations to purchase basic needs. 

Another way you can help: Tourism. 

In the wake of this devastating news, I was left with the tough decision of either canceling my flight to Puerto Rico or going on my vacation as planned. I researched tremendously about earthquake safety and tsunami probability. 

I learned that while over 1,000 tremors have shaken the island of Puerto Rico, the majority of them were so light they were mostly unfelt. 

To my surprise, I found out that the weekend I was traveling (January 16- January 19) was the weekend of the biggest street festival in Puerto Rico. The San Sebastian Festival, also known as SanSe, is a showcase of Puerto Rican culture that has become one of the biggest weekends for tourism. More than 200,000 people attend the festival each year. 

In the end, I decided that I would go to Puerto Rico because I knew in my heart I would be safe and at the very least every dollar spent would help the people.

While I was there, I stayed in San Juan, north of the island and was not directly affected by the earthquakes. The roads were clear, power was on, and water was running throughout the entire region. All of the tourist attractions I planned to see were open including El Yunque National Forest-- the only tropical rainforest in the United States National Forest system. I even celebrated the final day of SanSe by dancing salsa in the streets of Viejo San Juan and toasting with Medalla-- the famed Puerto Rican beer. 

After speaking with some locals, I learned that SanSe 2020 was not as crowded as past years. I also experienced half-empty flights both to and from. 

After Hurricane Maria, 50% of tourists said that media coverage negatively impacted the view of Puerto Rico as a destination. Tourism is one of the main drivers of Puerto Rico's economy. According to the CEO of Discover Puerto Rico, Brad Dean, tourism makes up 10% of Puerto Rico's GDP.  Let us work together to ensure tourism remains steady in these rough times. 

Currently, flights for the month of February and through most of March are as cheap as $105 round trip non stop from NYC through United or Frontier Airlines. Another bonus: you do not need a passport to travel to Puerto Rico. If you’re considering escaping the cold or are planning for future trips I highly suggest La Isla del Encanto. You will have a great time and you’ll be supporting a great cause. 

Puerto Rico is open for business! The Puerto Rican people are happy to welcome travelers to their island and they need financial support more than ever.

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