NSU Bowlers Find Comfort in Community, Look to Aid Puerto Rico
NORFOLK, Va. – Norfolk State bowlers Alexa Rodriguez and Heizel Quinones recall the same characteristic when describing their hometowns in Puerto Rico: close-knit communities. Now, in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the duo are discovering first-hand how close-knit the Spartan community can be.
The two bowlers grew up on the northern side of the island, separated by less than 30 miles. Rodriguez calls Carolina home. Quinones grew up in Toa Baja.
Carolina was “a really nice place to grow up,” said Rodriguez, who recalls Christmas celebrations that closed down streets and saw neighbors join together to share in food and delight.
Likewise, Quinones remembers large reunions in Toa Baja featuring hundreds of people and leaving a week’s worth of leftovers.
Now, the island of 3.4 million people is recoiling from the direct impact of Hurricane Maria, and Quinones, Rodriguez and the Spartan community at large are rushing to its aid.
To this end, the NSU Student-Athlete Advisory Committee (SAAC) is running a donation drive that begins this Friday and extends throughout the fall.
Members of SAAC will be present at every home volleyball and football contest to collect essentials – bottled water, batteries, flashlights, first aid supplies, baby food and personal hygiene supplies – as well as cash donations to offset the high cost of shipping supplies to Puerto Rico.
The idea to collect goods at athletic events was Quinones’. She credits a conversation with NSU Associate AD Alisha Tucker for the inspiration.
Like much of the island, Toa Baja was ravaged by Maria, which made landfall early in the morning on Wednesday, September 20 as a strong Category 4 storm with winds of 150 miles per hour. Excessive rainfall made a nearby river escape its banks – leveling homes and stranding families on rooftops.
“Two houses, they completely disappeared,” Quinones said.
Carolina fared better than Toa Baja, but high winds did strip the local high school gym of its roof.
Maria, the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in 80 years, destroyed the island’s communication network, leaving it severed from the mainland United States.
Contacting loved ones on the island remains difficult, more than a week after Maria made landfall.
Quinones first witnessed the storm’s destructive power when she received a video from her boyfriend. It shocked her.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” she said. “I saw cars upside down, ceilings of houses flying through the air, and water going through everyone’s houses.”
After frantically trying to reach out to family members on the day of the storm, Quinones eventually contacted an aunt, who answered the phone in tears, but the call dropped abruptly.
“That killed me right there,” she said. “I was really concerned.”
Rodriguez could not contact her family for two days before reaching them through a friend with cellular phone service. Now, she emails her sister daily.
“I knew my family was going to be safe because we live in a good house, but you don’t feel that security until you can hear from them,” Rodriguez said.
But surviving the storm itself was merely the beginning. Residents of Puerto Rico are now tasked with surviving without electricity and other essentials.
“It’s not if you survived the hurricane when it hit,” Quinones explained. “It’s about surviving the aftermath.”
The storm knocked out 80 percent of the island’s power lines, and over one million people are still without electricity. The timetable to completely restore power on Puerto Rico ranges from four to six months.
Without electricity, many are left scrambling to find clean drinking water. A friend of Rodriguez has resorted to scavenging coconuts for hydration, and the Department of Defense estimates that 44 percent of Puerto Ricans are currently without potable water.
“We don’t have water, and you know what happens when people don’t have water,” Quinones said. “People get sick. When one person gets sick, then everyone around them gets sick.”
Thoughts of home and concern for her loved ones weighs heavily on Rodriguez.
“It’s hard to focus on class,” she said. “It’s hard to do homework and classes when your mind is back home.”
However, Rodriguez has found comfort from the university community – calling it her “support group.”
The response shown by other Puerto Ricans living on the mainland has encouraged Quinones.
“We haven’t forgotten about Puerto Rico,” she said. “It fills me with joy to see all the people that are willing to help out.”
All Norfolk State fans are encouraged to donate either cash or essential goods. Donations will be collected by SAAC at all home volleyball and football contests. Only monetary donations will be accepted at Friday’s volleyball match with Coppin State at Gill Gymnasium, with the collection of essential goods starting on Sunday during volleyball’s match with Morgan State.
“It’s been nice having people care, genuinely care, for back home,” Rodriguez said.