• The San Juan Daily Star

Communities urged to ‘join forces’ 4 years after Hurricane Maria

Project 4645 says distrust of the Puerto Rico government is still alive and the call for community organization remains strong four years after Hurricane Maria. (Photo Courtesy of Project 4645)

By Pedro Correa Henry

Twitter: @pete_r_correa

Special to The Star

Four years after the passage of Hurricane Maria, a Category 4 storm that left Puerto Rico in the dark, with a death toll that has yet to be definitively counted, and infrastructure and economic development problems, Project 4645 spokesperson Gloribel Delgado Esquilín said Sunday that distrust of the government is still alive and the call for community organization remains strong.

“Nothing has changed in Puerto Rico when it comes to its system; in fact, I believe it is worse now,” Delgado Esquilín stressed in an interview with the STAR, in which she called on residents to unite amid the governing administration’s efforts to privatize essential services that were greatly compromised during the hurricane, a bad situation made worse by a lack of contingency plans.

“We are lucky that, although we are in the peak of the hurricane season, we have not faced a strong tropical storm, we have not faced something that is half as intense as Maria was,” she said. “This does not mean the government is ready to face another hurricane with similar proportions or has considered what people need.”

“We are awarded another year to get together, to finally address our necessities,” the journalist added. “I would take Hurricane Maria’s four-year anniversary to keep calling for communities across the nation to join forces, and not wait for the government to hand it to us because we have noticed the government is not working toward our interests -- they’re working for the bondholders and big corporations.”

Although emphasizing she would not speak for the thousands of people that the movement brought together on June 1, 2018, where she, along with the University of Puerto Rico Spanish professor Rafael Acevedo, coordinated a demonstration at the Capitol’s North Wing where residents placed a pair of shoes to pay respects for the islanders who passed away during and after hurricanes Irma and Maria, Delgado Esquilín called for residents to “keep the memory alive” and look out for each other.

“Community work is not only beautiful, but it is also important and urgent at this moment,” she said.

Likewise, she said the project, which was named after the estimated number of excess deaths reported in an interdisciplinary study by the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights at Harvard University, still stands strong to give support to families who continue to mourn the loss of loved ones due to the challenges brought by the storm.

The actual death toll during the aftermath of Hurricane Maria remains under speculation. In August 2018, then-Gov. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares accepted that the island’s death toll during the hurricane emergency increased from 64 to 2,975 fatalities following the release of a report by the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University titled “Ascertainment of the Estimated Excess Mortality from Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.”

However, a similar study was conducted by alumni from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, the Carlos Albizu University in Puerto Rico, and the University of Colorado School of Medicine estimated that “there had been somewhere between 800 and 8,500 excess deaths in Puerto Rico related to the hurricane through the end of December 2017.”

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