Hurricane Maria: An Alumni and Faculty Perspective
Mr. Francisco Rodriguez-Castro is an LSU alumnus who was born and raised in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He attended LSU studying Finance and Financial Management Services. His solid educational foundation achieved at LSU has played a major role in attaining his current position, President and CEO of Birling Capitol Advisors, LLC. At LSU, he was given key tools in order to succeed in life. It allowed him to be exposed to multicultural people with different ethnic backgrounds, religions and world views. International Programs at LSU had the opportunity to speak with Mr. Rodriguez-Castro about the horrific situation Puerto Rico is facing right now, how he and his company have been affected, as well as, giving us perspective on what is really happening further south. He is one of many who have been affected by the storm.
“Puerto Rico (PR) is operating under a difficult financial situation” explained Mr. Rodriguez-Castro. “PR has lost 100% of its power, communication and water” he continued, “…250,000 people have lost their homes or their homes have been damaged.” Louisiana experienced Hurricane Katrina, so, the hardship and rebuilding is something many can relate to. However, PR is in a completely different situation; the entire territory has been decimated. They have very little access to water, limited food supplies and gas lines that exceed eight hours. Mr. Rodriguez-Castro’s office still has no power, no water and has been problematic operationally.
Nonetheless, the storm has created a new sense of perspective and priorities for Mr. Rodriguez-Castro. His realization of the loss of simple things in life like going to work and doing day to day activities is indescribable. “It is difficult for me and my employees” explains Mr. Rodriguez-Castro.
According to Mr. Rodriguez-Castro, PR is facing three major challenges currently. They are trying to avoid a humanitarian crisis, trying to obtain loans because the government is running out of cash and trying to reactivate the economy. The US Federal Government has given PR outstanding support which makes Mr. Rodriguez-Castro confident that PR will rebuild better and stronger than ever.
Down power lines in Puerto Rico. -Photo courtesy of Mr. Francisco Rodriguez-Castro
Beach devastation in Puerto Rico. -Photo courtesy of Mr. Francisco Rodriguez-Castro
Costal devastation in Puerto Rico. -Photo courtesy of Mr. Francisco Rodriguez-Castro
Dr. Jose Torres is an Assistant Professor in the department of sociology and is the faculty advisor for the Hispanic Student Cultural Society here at LSU. He was born and raised in Puerto Rico and moved to the United States when he was 4 years old.
The news of Hurricane Maria was devastating. For Dr. Torres, it was hard to put into words especially having a very personal connection to the storm; being from there and having family there who were affected. He explained that no one was spared; all three and a half million people on the island were affected. Puerto Rico was already economically disadvantaged and one of their major sources of income, tourism, took a devastating hit. Dr. Torres continued to say that the whole situation is hard to grasp unless you’re personally involved. “I had no contact with relatives; it took a week to get word that they were ok” said Dr. Torres. With the thoughts of his family constantly in his head, it was hard to focus on work.
Not even a week after the storm, he met Ph.D. student Liz Lebron and they decided they wanted to do something to help the people of Puerto Rico. LSU’s Hispanic Student Cultural Society (HSCS), under the supervision of Dr. Jose Torres, came together and created the “Cajun Relief Initiative” in partnership with Cajun Airlift, Baton Rouge Emergency Aide Coalition, and Physicians Relief Network. The Cajun Relief Initiative created a youcaring crowdfunding campaign to collect monetary donations where the HSCS will purchase supplies and food for the victims. They also made a wish list on Walmart where students could purchase and see items that they had requested for donation. Furthermore, the Womens Center at LSU had opened their doors for a drop off location for supplies.Dr. Torres would like people to know that an island isn’t a barrier for providing relief. People should take initiative if you have the willingness to do something and research and partner with people who are already providing support. “Even if you don’t want to be directly involved there are always donations,” says Dr. Torres.
Dr. Jose Torres and Liz Lebron loading donations onto planes to Puerto Rico.
Dr. Jose Torres and Liz Lebron with LSU HSCS Cajun Relief Initiative donations.
Dr. Jose Torres with LSU HSCS Cajun Relief Initiative donations.