Families of UI students from Puerto Rico impacted by hurricane - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Families of UI students from Puerto Rico impacted by hurricane

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Eastern Iowa students are trying to stay in touch with their families devastated by Hurricane Maria.

It's been a week since the Category Four storm hit the island of Puerto Rico, a United States territory, which left a path of destruction. Help has been slow moving, and the Governor of Puerto Rico, Ricardo Rosselló, said the island is facing a humanitarian crisis.

Students at the University of Iowa that are originally from Puerto Rico said communication with their family members back home has been limited and extremely difficult.

"I was trying to be strong," Wilbeth Lugo Morales, a PhD candidate at the University of Iowa, said.

Lugo Morales didn't hear from her parents for nearly five days after Hurricane Maria hit her home of Puerto Rico.

"I was wondering if my family was okay, if they were safe, if we have still have a house. It was really scary," she said.

While her family is okay, they told her in a short phone call that their home had been destroyed.  She hasn't been able to hear much else from them.

"They cannot live in the house, so they're staying with other relatives.  So it's very difficult to know that now I don't have a home," Lugo Morales said.

She said being in Iowa throughout this has made her feel helpless because of the lack of communication, and not being able to do anything to help her family.

"I can't really help, even if when I want to simply send money. It was not possible to do it. There is no communication. Now I just have to wait until they can find someone who has a phone that is working for a couple minutes, and then they can call me," she said.

That's something Reinaldo Franqui Machin can relate to. Franqui Machin came to Iowa straight from Puerto Rico to continue his studies at the University of Iowa. Like Lugo Morales, his entire family still remains in Puerto Rico. While he says his parents are okay, he says that's not the case on most of the island.

"There's shortage of food, water, no power. Communication is just terrible. I know next to nothing for my friends and my extended my family, I'm talking my grandma, my cousins, my aunts and uncles. At this point, I know they live in very high-risk areas, but there's nothing I can do. Nobody can get there," Machin said.

Morales and Machin agree that their home territory needs help now more than ever.

"People in my island, they didn't have anywhere to go. They have to stay there. They were experiencing a huge economic crisis, so people were really struggling before, so imagine now that they've lost everything," Morales said.

Machin said they're in the works of trying to organize supply donations and see how they can help more, but that it's been a frustrating experience to watch from afar.  More volunteers are needed on the island to distribute supplies equally.  It's something that has been made difficult with roads and bridges destroyed.

"We do need your help. This is a very critical situation. People have already died and will die because they are in critical health conditions, and they just don't have the resources," he said.

A website, United for Puerto Rico, has been established for donations for Puerto Rico. It was set up by the First Lady of Puerto Rico, Beatriz Rosselló. Machin and Morales encourage people that are able to to donate on that website to help, not only their families, but all of Puerto Rico.

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