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CMU Student To Take Second Trip To Puerto Rico To Evacuate People With Urgent Medical Conditions

More than three weeks after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, many residents of the island are still struggling to gain access to clean drinking water, electricity and lifesaving medicines.

President Trump remarked on Thursday that the federal government cannot keep FEMA and the military in Puerto Rico "forever."

Meanwhile, one Carnegie Mellon University student has taken on her own relief effort.

Rosana Guernica, a Puerto Rico native, is raising money to charter planes arriving on the island with relief supplies and returning to the mainland with people with urgent medical needs.

Guernica makes her second trip to the island this weekend.

90.5 WESA’s Sarah Schneider caught up with Guernica outside an Allegheny County Democratic Committee event where she spoke Thursday night.

This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

SARAH SCHNEIDER: How did you react initially when the hurricane hit Puerto Rico and you saw and heard about the devastation?

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
CMU junior Rosana Guernica spoke Thursday night at the Allegheny County Democratic Committee's annual dinner about her crowdfunding efforts to evacuate people from Puerto Rico.

ROSANA GUERNICA: It was heartbreaking. It was devastating. And those feelings were followed by feelings of guilt. Because I was here and I was OK and I had electricity and water and my problems are nothing compared to what suddenly my friends, old high school teachers, family members were facing with. Then, we lost communication with 98 percent of people. You just stopped hearing from them. My father, for example, wasn't able to leave his apartment for the first five days because the water was so high.

SCHNEIDER: What inspired this pretty bold plan that you took on?

GUERNICA: I don't like when people tell me there's an unfortunate situation I can't do anything about. That was the general consensus: there was nothing anyone could do. You could not reach the island, you couldn't talk to anyone, you couldn't get packages there. Commercial flights weren't going in or out because the airport had been completely destroyed and lost their telecommunications. A few people I know said "Oh like [this person] got out," and I was like, "How?" And it was through private charters. So that night I talked to my grandmother on the phone who fortunately wasn't there, by coincidence she was in Dallas. I told her what I was going to do and she just hit the roof and said I was absolutely crazy. She's like, "Why? You're absolutely crazy, you have like this great life, you're in Pittsburgh, you're going to CMU, you have good grades and she was like why do this to yourself?" I'm able to. And I'm getting messages trickle in with people who don't have water. People we know. If we want to do something we will find a way. I think that's what I had, I had a lot of motivation and I wasn't able to sit still.

SCHNEIDER: What have you learned about the relief effort and what people still need?

GUERNICA: I know that it's been three weeks and there are people still dying. Because they can't get proper medical attention. They don't have generators to power their oxygen tanks. They can't keep their insulin cold. And so therefore it becomes useless. These are people who are more or less had they been in a stable environment would be OK.

SCHNEIDER: Tell me about being there after this happened. What did you see?

GUERNICA: I flew down with the Dr. Alejandro Rodriguez from Allegheny Health Network. He's from Ponce. We flew down and as we saw as we got closer we were able to see the island and it's just a large stretches of brown. And murky waters and brown rivers. And when you fly over Puerto Rico you see this green luscious vegetation and you see these bright blue waters and it's this beautiful place. And to see just the destruction it did to the vegetation alone it was absolutely heartbreaking. It's our home. Why is a 22-year old who's a junior in college able to make a difference? She shouldn't have to. That need should not exist. There's been a lot of help sent to Puerto Rico and there's a lot of people down there working really hard; government officials and private citizens. Yet there are still so many people in need and there are people who are dying and it's just because of the amount of destruction that the island saw. That's what it is.