On Sept. 18, just two days before the fifth anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Hurricane Fiona whipped through Puerto Rico, leaving flood damage, blackouts, and destruction across the archipelago. More than 21 fatalities have been attributed to the storm, homes have been battered, and thousands of people still don’t have power. There’s a long road to recovery left, and though many nonprofits and local organizations have stepped up, filling in for lackluster efforts from the government, some of Puerto Rico’s most recognizable artists, including Bad Bunny, Rauw Alejandro, and PJ Sin Suela, are also making big moves to help out their fellow Boricuas.
This past weekend, Rauw Alejandro worked directly on the ground with his manager Eric Duars of Duars Entertainment and his team, handing out supplies and 150 generators to people grappling with power outages after the storm. Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid, which collapsed after Maria, has had disastrous consequences — even hospitals lost power following Fiona. About 80 percent of the main island has regained power restored, according to Luma Energy, the embattled private company hired last year and put in charge of energy distribution, an increase that only came after local mayors and residents complained at how slowly Luma was moving (just three days ago, less than 50 percent of people had power again.)
Rauw and his team came up with a quick plan and partnered with several organizations, then hit neighborhoods to see what people needed most. The artist says it was firsthand experience that made him want to help: He was living on the island when Maria struck and remembers his own struggles getting back on his feet. “Back in those days, I was hustling still,” he tells Rolling Stone. “I wasn’t big or famous or all of that. I was just working for my family, towards my dreams, so I had nothing. We were two months without electricity or water — it was tough.”
The rapper PJ Sin Suela, who also works as a doctor and first responder in Puerto Rico, has been traveling across the island participating in pop-up clinics, getting a firsthand look at the damage. He spoke to Rolling Stone just after examining more than 100 people in the town of Toa Baja, his most recent stop along with fellow doctors as they offer free check-ups to locals.
“From Ponce [in the south] to Mayagüez and Rincón [in the west], people lost entire homes where flood levels reached two feet, and in some cases five to six feet,” he says.
While residents initially hoped the damage wouldn’t be as bad as Maria, the Category 1 storm left more devastation in its wake than anticipated. Many municipalities reported more flood damage to homes and infrastructure this time than five years ago, and a now-viral video that shows a temporary bridge in the town of Utuado being swept away is testament to how perilous the high river torrents were. Particularly hard-hit areas include south and southwest parts of the archipelago that had already been recovering from several natural disasters, including an earthquake in 2020 that rattled the foundation of many buildings and homes.
“This is a region that feels abandoned by the news, the media, and the government,” PJ Sin Suela says “And they need a lot of help”
Bad Bunny is currently playing sold-out stadiums across the country as part of his World’s Hottest Tour, but that hasn’t stopped him from finding ways to help from afar. He started attaching a QR code to concert bracelets that directs fans to various vetted organizations that support the hardest-hit communities. Some of these include Techos Pa’ Mi Gente, which works to rebuild damaged rooftops; Casa Pueblo, which is dedicated to preserving natural and cultural resources; and El Foster Club, which helps abandoned or stray dogs and cats that are especially vulnerable during natural disasters. Other organizations that have been at the forefront of relief efforts are Taller Salud, a group of feminist community organizers helping marginalized communities, and Brigada Solidaria del Oeste, which is assisting with cleanup and rebuilding efforts on the west and south side of the island.
PJ Sin Suela points out that the back-to-back disasters have taken on a toll on the mental health of many Puerto Ricans in a way that is alarming. “Mental health is very worrying in these towns because even people who are physically fit and have their medications up-to-date burst out in tears when they talk to you,” he says. “They’ve been through Maria, earthquakes, and now these new floods.”
For many, community efforts, and support from artists, are necessary. Trust in the government has plunged even lower in the years after island-wide protests led to the ouster of then-governor Ricardo Rosselló in 2019. People also have little faith after the Trump administration botched relief efforts – and delayed billions in funds – after Maria. More recently, reports show that FEMA funds meant for disaster relief have been disbursed at a glacial pace, with only $40 million used in the last five years, out of more than $13 billion allocated to the island post-Maria.
“One thing that I thought during Maria was that if I was ever making music and had the resources to help my people I’d do it. It’s the least I can do,” Rauw Alejandro says. “I’m not gonna wait for the government to help the people, because that never happens.”
Bad Bunny spoke forcefully against the current administration, taking a moment during a show in Las Vegas on Sept. 23 to speak to the crowd about what’s happening back home. “Puerto Rico is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen, and not just because I’m from there–because of its beaches, its rivers, its culture, its people,” he said before adding “Five years ago we lost a lot of people because of a hurricane, and now we’re getting hit again.” He bemoaned the lack of leadership, saying, “We have to do everything ourselves because we have an enemy government that makes itself rich and puts the people last on its list of priorities.” He urged Puerto Ricans to take action and remove “the people who keep us down” before launching into “El Apagón,” a song that highlights colonial injustices in Puerto Rico.
Hurricane Maria knocked out cell phone and internet service island-wide, but cell signals have remained unaffected after Fiona, which has helped people spread the word and speed up recovery efforts. Rauw says his team is going to keep scouting parts of Puerto Rico with the most need and doing what they can. “The stores, everything goes so quickly, so we need to wait for replenishment of materials to continue,” he says. “It’s going to be long. It’s not like in one week things are going to be okay. This is big, big work.”