HOLYOKE, Mass. (WWLP) – Four years after Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico, members of the Holyoke Community came together Monday evening to commemorate the event with a memorial service.
“The memories and the pain are fresh in our hearts; it feels as if it was yesterday. We must remember, and honor, those who lost their lives, but we must also remember that in the Diaspora right here in Holyoke, we came together to do all we could to help”, said Myriam Quiñones from Holyoke Community College, who is part of the coordinating committee.
The event provided a space for those personally impacted by Hurricane Maria to share their stories and perspectives on the storm. It also featured remarks from: Chloe Soto from Nueva Esperanza Inc, Cynthia Espinosa from the Planning and Economic Development Office from the City of Holyoke, Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, the former Mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico and current Weissman Fellow in Leadership at Mount Holyoke College, and others.
Not only was it a time to remember, but it was also a time to raise awareness. Many saying the island still hasn’t recovered.
“My worst fears had been confirmed,” Carmen Yulín Cruz Soto, former Mayor of San Juan, recalled. She told 22News, “The San Juan and the Puerto Rico that I knew and loved would be there no more.”
Four years later, survivors tell their stories. And while time has passed, the memories have not faded. Reminders of the devastating category 4 hurricane that ripped through Puerto Rico on September 20, 2017 are still on the island today.
“It is criminal that just 6-percent, by the government’s accounts, for the homes that were destroyed four years ago have been fixed,” said Cruz-Soto.
Thousands of Puerto Rican residents relocated to Holyoke in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Services for them were set up through the city as well as a number of resource centers.
And while the resources helped provide clothing, employment, and shelter, it was hard for many to acclimate to Holyoke. Many wanting to return home as soon as possible.
“Trying to assist them and figuring out, ‘Do you want to stay permanently or is this just to see when the electricity gets back up, when running water gets going, and then you’re going to go back,'” Betty Medina, Executive Director of Enlace de Familias, Inc., a social services organization based in Holyoke.
And as thousands of evacuees came to Holyoke from Puerto Rico, many volunteers from Holyoke also went to the island to assist in clean up efforts and delivering necessities.
The city of Holyoke currently has the largest Puerto Rican population in the country other than on the island.
Monday’s memorial service ended with a candlelight vigil and the distribution of tote bags commemorating what was lost in the deadly storm. The event was a collaboration between Holyoke Community College, El Corazon de Holyoke, Nueva Esperanza Inc, the City of Holyoke, and Mount Holyoke College.