The devastation left by Hurricane’s Maria and Irma are still very much apparent on the island of Puerto Rico which was battered by violent winds of up to 155mph and experienced very heavy rain fall. This was the strongest storm to hit the island in a hundred years and has affected the entire population.
The Island lost all electricity and communication as the power grid was knocked out, towers and poles were swept away and smashed against the sides of buildings and strewn across the streets. Entire palm trees were uprooted and tree branches flung about, while billboards and rooftops became projectiles, killing anyone in their path. Rivers overpowered bridges, causing them to collapse, leaving whole areas inaccessible and mudslides buried residents in their homes.
There has been a very public back and forth between the Trump Administration and Puerto Rico’s government showing clearly conflicting reports of the current situation in Puerto Rico, a territory of the US. The US President Donald Trump has explained that it is a logistical challenge due to it being an island, but they are still managing to do an excellent job in responding to the people’s needs. On the other hand, the islanders claim that aid has been either slow or nonexistent.
Despite this conflict at the governmental level, the community led response has been coordinated and focused on providing aid and assistance to those most affected.
One such example of this is the 3 Puerto Rican Imams Project. As the name suggests, this project is spearheaded by three Puerto Rican Muslim leaders living in the US – Imam Abdullah Daniel Hernández, Imam Yusuf Rios and Imam Wesley “Abu Sumayyah” Lebrón, with the goal of collecting funds to distribute aid to the areas that were most affected by Hurricane María. They also count on several Puerto Rican Muslim volunteers, as well as Muslims from a variety of nationalities who have unified for the cause. In collaboration with ICNA Relief, they joined a team traveling to Puerto Rico to assess the damage and plan the best strategy for delivering donations.
Imam Rios confirmed that there is some truth to both sides of the argument. Indeed, aid in the form of donations and equipment is reaching the ports of Puerto Rico, however, these items are not being distributed to those people who need it most. The lack of diesel fuel also creates a problem for truckers and drivers of heavy machinery for pickup and trash removal. For the most part, it is the people themselves who are cleaning up the debris in the streets and clearing roads.
“Locals in many instances cleaned up their own streets without much support from government. In some cases, residents received no support. There are complaints of a lack of aid coming from the government (overall).“
Imam Wesley Lebrón, has family living in all four corners of the island. The roof of his aunt’s home flew off during the storm and her second-floor apartment was completely destroyed, leaving the first floor exposed to rain water which seeped in to ruin much of her furniture. This ordeal shook Imam Lebron who said,
“The reality of knowing that my family could have been dead, may not have food to eat, and may be thirsty, is something that kept me awake even when I was asleep. Worrying about the state of my people and Island wondering when they will be able to return back to a normal state are thoughts that run through my mind daily.”
As part of the 3 Imams Project, he plans to travel to Puerto Rico to offer aid wherever he can. The reaction among Puerto Ricans living outside the island, like Imam Lebrón, is that they must take matters into their own hands. Donation drives and crowdfunding campaigns have been in full swing even before the hurricane made landfall.
However, now that federal aid has been lagging, the outrage people feel from the outside looking in has served to galvanize not only the diaspora, but Latinos in general. Lebrón says,
“I hope that this project will be something that joins hearts, minds, and souls together for a beautiful cause: service to humanity. I hope that it is something that started because of a tragedy, but (it) develops to be something that can continue to serve the needs of the Puerto Rican people, specifically, and a tool that could also be used by the Latino Muslims in general.”
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