These Puerto Rican Students Are Sharing Their Experiences Post-Hurricane Maria

'So many students in my classes lost everything,' says one undergrad now enrolled tuition-free at NYU

On September 20, Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico. The storm, the force of which was unprecedented, also caused unparalleled damage to the island.

As of the end of January, four months after the storm, nearly half a million Puerto Rican residents still don't have power and face a number of other issues ranging from their economic to psychological well-being.

Some institutions are trying to help, though. In November, New York University announced that they would accept nearly 50 students from Puerto Rican colleges whose educations were disrupted by the hurricane — tuition-free.

MTV News caught up with four of the Puerto Rican students who were accepted and are now enrolled in and studying at NYU about their experiences and hopes for the future.

Living Through Hurricane Maria

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Crystal Garcia

Crystal Garcia: Days before [the hurricane] there were mile long lines at grocery stores, gas stations — anywhere you needed supplies, they were already [sold] out.

Crystal Medina Lozada: My family wasn't really prepared because there is this thing in Puerto Rico: a lot of people believe that the island is blessed because every time they [have] announced a hurricane, it never really happens. But then when we saw the news that [Hurricane Maria] was getting serious. We tried to prepare as best we could with a really a short amount of time.

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Crystal Medina Lozado

I spent the night holding the windows with my grandfather and my brother. My grandmother was sweeping water out of the living room. It was really tiring: We were up all night just hoping that the house didn't suffer that much damage.

Kevin Santiago Ruiz: The entire hurricane, I watched the neighbors’ roofs basically get destroyed and the streets flood. Suddenly our window busted and my mom got scared. She [made] all of us stay in one single room. I couldn't sleep, obviously, because I heard all the wind.

After the Storm 

Crystal Medina Lozada: After the hurricane it was frustrating. We lost our communication. My dad is a nurse so he actually worked through the hurricane in one of the major hospitals in the island. We didn't [hear from] my dad [at first] and we didn't hear from my aunt, who lives a couple towns away, for a few weeks. All of the businesses in my town were completely destroyed.

Alex Guardiola: Afterwards, you go out onto the streets and all you find is pure and utter chaos. The police weren't working because they were not paying them. Basically, there's no feeling of safety on the island.

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Alex Guardiola

Crystal Garcia: I didn't hear from some of my closest friends or some of my family in other parts of the island for a week, two weeks. It was a lot of anxiety. There was nothing to do but wait because the roads were destroyed, bridges were completely destroyed.

From the beginning, [the] chaos just started to get worse. The truth is a lot of people were dying and that was not being documented on a large scale. The government was saying [one] number of people reported dead, but we all knew in reality knew that the number was growing and growing…[the government] didn't want the [deaths] documented. They did not want to alert people.

The truth is all those shipments [of aid] were stuck in warehouses for weeks, for months. People did not receive food. ... [or] batteries, water, diapers, baby formula — all that stuff. Some even spoiled.

Coming to NYU and Moving Forward

Crystal Medina Lozada: My campus [at the University of Puerto Rico] was really damaged. When I left, we were taking classes under tents. There was water and fungus in the classrooms.

Alex Guardiola: So many students in my classes [at the University of Puerto Rico] lost everything.

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Kevin Santiago Ruiz

Kevin Santiago Ruiz: My previous plan once I graduated from my university was to continue my studies, but the university [where] I was going to continue my studies also got really damaged. When NYU offered this help, I decided to pour my heart out on the application essay. I just tried to take all the bad experiences that have happened to me and just be honest with them and try to make something good out of it.

Crystal Garcia: I hope young students and people who were affected by Hurricane Maria [also try] to find their way towards what they want — to not stop looking or feel stuck. Someone will hear you, someone will want to know what happened to you, and someone will want to give you that hand, that hope, that you're not getting at home.

The Future

Crystal Medina Lozada: [Puerto Rico] didn't have stability before. We don't have it now. I see all these responses from people all around the world, yet we see very little change happening on the island. A lot of people still don't have electricity, still don't have water. The United States hasn't really responded the same as they did [to hurricanes in] Florida and Texas. It's just really alarming to me. And I just hope that they know that we are American citizens.