After Hurricane Maria ravaged homes and left an entire island without electricity, Lucia Shelley Maluy, an ESL teacher at Mandan High School, said her students from Puerto Rico had no idea whether their family members and friends living there were OK.

MHS senior Solimar Gonzales' grandmother "lost everything," including her home and all of her belongings in the hurricane. Greicha Maldonado, a junior, confirmed most of her aunt's possessions were destroyed when her aunt's house flooded.

The hurricane knocked out power for the 3.4 million people on the island. About 30 percent of electricity has been restored, and efforts are continuing toward that end.

Because of power outages and shoddy cellular service, it took weeks and, in some cases, even a month before these students heard from their loved ones.

"I just wanted to cry with them, because, I mean, how can you perform (at school) not knowing if they’re alive or not?" Shelley Maluy said.

To help their peers and those impacted by the hurricane, students at Mandan High School held fundraisers for Puerto Rico relief efforts. This month, they held a bake sale and charged $1 on student hat day. In total, they raised $1,400.

Students in foreign language clubs involved in the fundraising presented a check on Wednesday to Rob Stotz, disaster program manager for the Red Cross of Western North Dakota.

“I think this is fantastic," said Stotz, adding that it shows initiative among the students.

The money collected will go directly toward aid in Puerto Rico, according to Stotz.

"We are really thankful and appreciate it. They worried about us and our families," said Gonzales, who moved to North Dakota three years ago with her parents and brother for career opportunities.

In addition to Gonzales' grandmother's home being destroyed by the hurricane, some of her friends in Utuado, Puerto Rico, also are not doing well.

"A couple of my friends are running out of food and water. It is not a good situation," she said, adding that a friend died two weeks ago after drinking infected water and contracting the bacterial disease, leptospirosis.

Gonzales said her grandmother will leave her life in Puerto Rico behind and travel to Boston next week to live with Gonzales' aunt.

This is the case for many of Shelley Maluy's students whose family members plan to move to the United States to start over. In fact, Shelley Maluy said she anticipates having more students from Puerto Rico enroll in local schools as a result of the hurricane. Currently, she has 17 students.

Michael Pabon, a senior, who has lived in North Dakota for about a year, said his aunt and her son are planning to move here next week. 

Maldonado, a junior, whose aunt's belongings were lost due to flooding, said her aunt and grandmother are saving their money to move to Mandan in January, where they'll share an apartment with Maldonado and her parents until they can afford their own place.

Shelley Maluy said she greeted one of her student's grandparents after they arrived in North Dakota this past weekend. She said the grandfather, who is a veteran, lost everything.

"I said, 'How is Puerto Rico?' And the moment I said that he started bawling, because, he said, 'My life is there, and I’m going to be 80-something starting a new life here with just the clothes (I) have on,'" she said.

(Reach Blair Emerson at 701-250-8251 or Blair.Emerson@bismarcktribune.com)

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