Vermont College Watching Puerto Rico Emergency

A Vermont creative writing program is closely watching the humanitarian disaster in Puerto Rico.

The Vermont College of Fine Arts in Montpelier offers a winter residency in the city of San Juan and in the El Yunque National Forest, the only tropical rainforest in the U.S. National Forest system.

The program is for students working toward their masters degrees in writing.

The program’s director, Ann Cardinal, who is of Puerto Rican descent and who has many friends and relatives there, said even before Hurricane Maria, the island was really struggling with badly aging infrastructure and economic challenges like unemployment.

Still, Cardinal told necn that the Puerto Rican people, who are American citizens, are very strong and optimistic.

"When I contact my family, I’m a wreck—I’m all concerned—especially because being far away and not knowing is so frustrating. But when I contact them, they’re like, 'Oh, we’ll be fine, we’ve been through this before,'" Cardinal said. "There’s not a lot of self-pity. They just keep going. I feel they have a lot of resilience and they’re going to come out of this okay. It’s just these next few weeks that concern me."

Cardinal said she learned Thursday morning all her relatives in Puerto Rico are safe, but without electrical service. Water service has also been severely impacted across the island.

The college said it still plans to go ahead with its residency this January, even if it means making small adjustments to locations for some of the sessions, if it turns out the Hurricane damaged spots the program planned to visit.

Cardinal said it is important for the residency to continue, telling necn the last thing Puerto Rico needs now is to be abandoned.

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