It was the strongest hurricane to hit Puerto Rico in nearly 90 years, and now eight months removed from Hurricane Maria, the island is still recovering.
Cubs’ Javier Baez witnessed it first hand this offseason when he visited his hometown of Bayamón, Puerto Rico’s second-largest municipality.
“It’s been really tough over there,” Baez said Wednesday night after the Cubs’ 7-5 victory over the Phillies.
Maria destroyed thousands of homes and knocked out power across Puerto Rico. And the island is still rehabbing from the 20-plus inches of rain Maria dropped, which resulting in disastrous flooding that made roads resemble raging rivers.
Puerto Rican officials publicly denounced the federal government’s response to Maria on several occasions. But on March 7, the United States approved $2.2 billion in federal aid to help Puerto Rico households and businesses recover from Maria, according to FEMA.
While the federal government’s assistance is appreciated, Baez believes more can be done.
“I think there could be more help,” Baez said. “It’s hard because we don’t control this but, you know, I think that people can do a little bit more to help and contribute what we can.”
Asked if the federal government did enough, Baez said “they’ve done a lot for our island, but I think we can do a little bit more.”
Although Baez said he’s not “saying they have to,” he wanted it to be known that the island is still coping with the disaster.
“We’re really struggling,” he said, “but at the same time, we’re getting back up.”
Baez, who admitted he had trouble getting his truck around some roads in Bayamón when he visited, had never seen a storm quite like Maria.
He remembers Hurricane George in 1998. Baez, who was 6 years old at the time, watched the howling winds uproot trees and blow heavy objects as if they were measly plastic bags floating through the wind. Baez’s home, which was made out of concrete, remained standing.
There were no direct casualties from George; the same can’t be said about Maria. Puerto Rican officials set the death toll at 64, although many — including Baez — believe there were more than 4,000 casualties.
“It’s sad obviously,” Baez said, “But somehow we have to get out and grow up again. And it’s been really slow, but at the same time, we have to put our time to get it back.
“I know a lot of people died. … I’m not in the worst situation, and I know how to keep moving on and help with where I can.”
Baez has been doing just that.
Baez used social media to get the word out about Puerto Rico relief. During the playoffs, he sold limited-edition T-shirts, which raised roughly $85,000 for hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico.
Before Wednesday’s game against the Phillies, Baez hosted 20 guests at Wrigley Field. The group consisted of individuals and families who lost everything in Maria.
“To me when people see me and they open there eyes, it’s the best feeling,” Baez said. “Having these people here that pretty much lost everything, they’re … trying to go forward. So as long as I can make someone’s day or somebody happy, obviously I will. I have no problem even more if they’re people from my island.”