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Separated From Family, Puerto Rican Students Come Together At Ohio State

PRSA
The Puerto Rican Student Association at Ohio State raises funds for hurricane relief.

President Trump is scheduled to fly to Puerto Rico on Tuesday, two weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory, and days after he defended his administration's slow response.

The Puerto Rican Student Association at Ohio State University held a fundraiseron Monday as part of a global effort called United for Puerto Rico.

Liane Davila-Martin, a graduate student and president of the association, says Ohio State has a large contingent of Puerto Ricans of campus - many of whom, if not all, have family still on the island.

"The whole fact that the hurricane was going through, while we were here in Ohio, nothing for us to do, that was kind of tough," Davila-Martin says. "We were all gathering together and praying."

Puerto Rican students at Ohio State supported each other in the meantime, she says, and different departments and offices at the university reached out to the Students Association to figure out how to help. 

Davila-Martin, who was born and raised in Puerto Rico before moving to the mainland in high school, says it was difficult to even connect with family after the hurricane. Electricity for almost the entire island of 3 million U.S. citizens was knocked out in the storm, cutting off cell towers and communication networks. 

"A lot of us didn't hear from our families until like two or three days ago," Davila-Martin says.

Davila-Martin says she finally made it through to her family on Sunday, albeit briefly.

"It was a quick voice message that said we're good, mama's good, grandma's good, our house is fine, but the whole neighborhood is completely destroyed," Davila-Martin says.

Davila-Martin said the entire island is "devastated," but praised Puerto Ricans' resilience in the face of adversity.

"The people in Puerto Rico, they're going through a lot," she says. "There are people who are waiting in line since 5 a.m. just to wait at the gas station to see if they can get some gas, or waiting for hours before, to get into the supermarket and get something."

Davila-Martin emphasized the importance of Congress eliminating the Jones Act, which restricts shipping for Puerto Rico. Last Thursday, President Trump temporarily waived the law to help relief supplies get to the island, but only for 10 days. Davila-Martin says that isn't enough.

"It's like starting a new island all from zero," Davila-Martin says.

Clare Roth was former All Things Considered Host for 89.7 NPR News. She joined WOSU in February of 2017. After attending the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University, she returned to her native Iowa as a producer for Iowa Public Radio.