Update on Puerto Rico: Drewids Get Involved

by Mel Dikert

The Drew Disaster Relief Coalition held a disaster relief panel on Tuesday, October 24 at 7 p.m. to bring different perspectives and angles on disaster relief together in one educational session. Topics discussed included how to create your own flood bucket and future plans for the club. One such future plan, explained by Pearl Sutter (‘18), the communications manager of the Coalition, includes sending people into areas affected by Hurricane Harvey over spring break to help with their recovery.

Alexandra Koeck (‘19), organizer of the Baldwin panel within the Coalition, hopes that the event helped to educate members of the community on “how to act in times of disaster.” Her goal is that educated students will “pass along information and act whenever and however they are able to do so.”  

Since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico and destroyed the island’s water system, many neighborhoods have been struggling to gain access to clean drinking water. Some citizens have had to resort to potentially dangerous means in order to have water. There is a small town west of San Juan that has several wells that sit atop the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site, an area “polluted with industrial chemicals” reports CNN. In a desperate attempt to get water, nearby residents have been drinking water from these wells and exposing themselves to these chemicals. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says that the chemicals in these wells “can have serious health impacts including damage to the liver and increasing the risk of cancer.”

Bri Vazquez Smith (‘19), who is not a member of the Coalition but attended the event on Tuesday night, commented on the disaster in Puerto Rico, saying, “I think that it is horrible that a huge country like the United States has so many resources and can’t seem to help an island. These are American people without clean water and limited resources and Trump decided that throwing paper towels into a crowd and comparing fatalities to Katrina was all a good idea.”

It is unclear which parts of the Dorado Groundwater Contamination Site are still contaminated. The EPA is currently sampling water from the wells to test their safety. One of the wells has already been approved for public use and, according to CNN, thousands of residents have been bringing containers and waiting in lines to fill them with water. Results on whether or not other wells in the area are safe to drink from should be released soon.

Pearl Sutter (‘18) believes it is important for Drew students to get involved in disaster relief because “There’s always going to be a disaster that has to be taken care of and to have an educated body of individuals who know how to approach this is only going to aid in how disasters are dealt with and how they are handled in the future.”

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