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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Puerto Rico earthquakes impact students

Students gather in the Chapel of Saint Joseph on Jan. 19 for a Spanish Mass where they said prayers for those affected by the recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

St. Joe’s students living in Puerto Rico face the aftermath of destructive earthquakes over winter break

As images of the Virgin Mary and other paintings fell off the walls of her grandmother’s house in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, Maria Fernanda Medina ’22 heard her parents shout that she should get outside and take cover.

From the moment Medina first felt the earth shake at 4:24 a.m. on Jan. 7 to the time she sprinted out of the house, everything happened so quickly that Medina doesn’t even remember how she got to safety.

“In less than 10 or 15 seconds we were already out of the house,” Medina said. “The building alarms were going off. All the car alarms were going off. It seemed like those end-of-the-world movies where all the alarms are sounding at the same time.”

After the first earthquake, later confirmed by the U.S. Geological Survey as a magnitude 6.4 main shock, Medina said many people around her were afraid to fall asleep in their homes in case another earth-
quake hit. In total, six magnitude 6 earthquakes have hit Puerto Rico since Dec. 28.

Thousands of families like Medina’s ended up sleeping outside their homes for fear they would be crushed if another earthquake struck.

After hearing about the earthquakes on the news, Mary Elaine Perry, Ph.D., Title IX and bias response coordinator and chair of the university’s critical incident response team, gathered faculty from the Advising Support Center, student outreach and support and the Center for Psychological Services (CAPS) to assist St. Joe’s students from Puerto Rico. Currently, 78 students from Puerto Rico attend St. Joe’s, Perry said.

“We want our students to make sure that they know we are here to support them,” Perry said. “They’ve been given information about resources that are available to them. If they are having trouble paying their bills, [the office of] student accounts is informed and they are willing to work with students to help them do what they need to do to stay in school.”

Medina said in the meantime she is worried about her family at home. “Maybe my house is safe but what if they’re are at work?” Medina said. “What if they’re at the supermarket? What if they’re in the car and a bridge falls down? That stress that I feel won’t go away.”

Maria Maldonado Weng ’20 was in Philadelphia during the earthquakes but said she was worried about her family members who live in Puerto Rico. “I was kind of panicking because I thought it would be the same effect as Hurricane Maria,” Weng said referring to the 2017 hurricane which caused $90 billion in damage across Puerto Rico. “I called my mom and the phone was working so that was nice. She said, ‘We are fine, don’t worry about us.’”

In support of Puerto Rican students impacted by the natural disasters, Bill Rickle, S.J., mentioned Hurricane Maria and the earthquakes in Puerto Rico at the Jan. 20 Spanish Mass held on campus, offering words of support to those most affected.

“What brought many of our students here are the disastrous consequences of a combination of a hurricane and then earthquakes,” Rickle said. “We were praying for all of those communities.”

After being in class for a week, Medina said being back on campus has been difficult because she constantly feels the mental and emotional stress from the devastating earthquakes.

“When everyone is changing classrooms and I’m still at the desk and I feel it move, I think for a second, ‘Oh my gosh an earthquake,’” Medina said. “But then I remember I’m in Philadelphia and that doesn’t happen here.”

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