Op­tions few, and ‘we don’t have that time to waste’

The Arizona Republic - - USA To­day -

fur­ther no­tice,” she said. “We’re try­ing to find a flight.”

Her boyfriend, Luis En­rique, 26, who works as an ac­coun­tant and is also a grad stu­dent, pointed out that elec­tric­ity and telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions are still down across much of the U.S. ter­ri­tory. “Noth­ing is telling us ev­ery­thing will be OK in one or two years. We don’t have that time to waste,” he said.

The trend of young peo­ple leav­ing Puerto Rico be­gan be­fore Hur­ri­cane Maria and Hur­ri­cane Irma two weeks ear­lier. But the dev­as­ta­tion is now ac­cel­er­at­ing a process of mi­gra­tion that could trig­ger a fu­ture fi­nan­cial cri­sis, said Car­los Mén­dez, an as­so­ciate ad­min­is­tra­tor at the Aux­ilio Mu­tuo Hos­pi­tal, one of the is­land’s top med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties.

“Younger peo­ple are leav­ing the is­land and older peo­ple stay,” Mendez said. “There’s not go­ing to be enough (young work­ers). Even­tu­ally the struc­ture will fail.”

Atabey Nuñez, 25, who lost her job as an ac­coun­tant with a TV se­ries be­cause of Maria, said her plan is “to fin­ish this month’s rent and go to the States.” She’s bilin­gual and hopes to stay with which­ever friend can put her up the long­est.

“I was go­ing to look for a job here, but there’s no elec­tric­ity,” Nuñez said. “It’s hard to find In­ter­net, so it’s hard to find a job.”

She had planned to back­pack across Europe next sum­mer, but that prospect is dashed be­cause she has been dip­ping into sav­ings to sur­vive. There’s still a stigma to leav­ing. Melisa Gon­za­lez, 34, and her hus­band, Gabriel Viera, 32, are af­flu­ent bankers in the cap­i­tal who con­tinue work­ing de­spite the de­struc­tion.

“I think those who leave the is­land are not proud,” Viera said. “They just leave and dis­ap­pear.”

He said that if he lost his job at the bank, he would work for a cof­fee plan­ta­tion do­ing man­ual la­bor, and oth­ers should seek farm or con­struc­tion jobs to re­build the com­mon­wealth.

Gon­za­lez said she wants to leave. “But if we aban­don the sit­u­a­tion, we’re not go­ing to help the is­land move on,” she said. “We have the fi­nances to leave, but we don’t want to be­cause we’re part of the so­lu­tion. But — ”

“We don’t judge,” her hus­band in­ter­rupted.

“— when the go­ing gets tough, the Puerto Ri­can peo­ple stay,” Gon­za­lez fin­ished.

Quiñones, the psy­chol­ogy stu­dent, re­jected that way of think­ing.

“No one should tell me I’m not do­ing enough for my coun­try,” she said. “Ac­tu­ally, my coun­try is not do­ing enough for me.”

OREN DORELL, USA TO­DAY

Luis En­rique, 26, and Vi­viana Quiñones, 28, have seen their grad­u­ate stud­ies in­ter­rupted by Maria and its af­ter­math. “We’re try­ing to find a flight,” Quiñones says.

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