Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic need help after Hurricane Fiona

Clara Ramirez Trelles

As you may have seen on the news, Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic this September. But too often after a major storm, news coverage focuses on the direct impact and not the humanitarian and economic crises that follow.

As a Puerto Rican student who lived through Hurricane Maria in 2017, I know this all too well. I remember clearly how terrifying the storm itself was. My family was anxious about nearby flooding in the neighborhood, water came into our house through the roof, and we could see pieces of scrap and metal flying around in all directions. But once the storm had passed, the feeling of fear was replaced by one of isolation.

The aftermath of the storm felt just as dangerous, with homes and infrastructure destroyed, many left without power for months (for some it was a whole year), and no certainty about what would be left of the economy. And although this was a pressing reality for many in Puerto Rico, I remember feeling the disconnect between the crisis in my country and the coverage it would get after the storm.

I’m terrified the same thing will happen in the wake of Fiona. There is a crisis in the Caribbean, and we must not forget the people of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. Part of this is making an intentional effort to educate yourself on how the crisis continues to develop.

When Hurricane Fiona made landfall in Puerto Rico, it was actually the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Maria. By the time Fiona struck the island, only 30 percent of reconstruction from Hurricane Maria was underway; more than 3,000 homes still had tarps rather than roofs.

Fiona originally hit Puerto Rico as a Category 1 hurricane, with maximum wind speeds of 85 mph. The infrastructure of Puerto Rico was not ready to withstand Hurricane Fiona. The devastating amounts of flooding and accompanying landslides destroyed homes and put many in danger. Dozens had to be rescued by the National Guard, but some municipalities were too isolated to reach. According to CNN, the death toll associated with Fiona is currently 25 but will likely increase as we continue to learn more after the storm.

The day the storm hit, no Puerto Ricans had power, and many didn’t have water. While water was restored in most places, the restoration of the electrical grid has been much slower. The energy grid in Puerto Rico has been a contentious issue for a long time — it has been chronically under-invested in and unreliable. Currently, LUMA Energy, the private company in charge of Puerto Rico’s energy grid, is facing a lot of criticism for the slow recovery of services.

By the time the storm arrived in the Dominican Republic, it had increased its intensity to a Category 2 hurricane with wind speeds up to 110 mph. Many provinces in the island declared a state of emergency, with warnings of flash floods, mudslides and vulnerable infrastructure. Thousands have been displaced as homes have been severely impacted or destroyed. Evacuations from dangerous areas were common, and temporary shelters saw an influx of residents.

Although Fiona was the first major storm to hit the island since Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, critical services were severely interrupted, including power, water, and cellular service. Water services have yet to be fully restored on the island. The impact to telecommunications means that there is an information gap; less is known about the aftermath in the Dominican Republic compared to Puerto Rico.

People in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic can’t expect their governments to be quick and efficient in the process of recovery. Grassroots organizations have stepped in, providing critical services for people in their communities, including electricity, water, and help in rebuilding.

But these organizations need funds. After the hurricane, I felt a certain disconnect from the crisis, since I hadn’t experienced it with the rest of my family in Puerto Rico. However, I feel uniquely privileged and positioned to do something about it. A group of Puerto Rican students and I, alongside groups like Vista, Students of Caribbean Ancestry (SOCA), and the International Students Association (ISA), are determined to raise awareness of the situation and funds for these critical organizations. Because Hurricane Fiona has severely impacted housing in both countries, we’ll be fundraising for Techos Pa’ Mi Gente in Puerto Rico and Cambiando Vidas in the Dominican Republic — both of which focus on helping people rebuild homes after a hurricane at no cost.

Although it is important to educate yourself on the crisis in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, it is not enough by itself. The students of Williams College have the ability and responsibility to help. Announcements for our fundraising events will be coming soon, and I invite all of my fellow students to come support the people of the Dominican Republic and my country as they face this crisis.


Clara Ramírez Trelles ’24 is a history and political science major from Cupey, Puerto Rico.