Puerto Rican Student Escapes Aftermath of Hurricanes in Humboldt County

Nov 4, 2017

Surviving finals week is usually one of the most stressful things about college. But Biology student Amanda Agosto had to survive two hurricanes  during her senior year at the University of Puerto Rico.

Amanda Agosto provided photos of what Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria did to her neighborhood in Puerto Rico.
Credit Amanda Agosto

“What happened to me the first time I went outside and I thought ‘ok its not too bad.’ But then you start realizing that literally every single building had some kind of damage," she said. "And then you have actual big destruction in some places and we didn’t have actual communication for like two weeks."

She was on the island during both Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. The only reason she was able to escape the island was because she knew a student at Humboldt State University.

Tara Caso (Left) and Amanda Agosto (right) at KHSU.
Credit Natalya Estrada

Tara Caso, a Biology student at HSU met Amanda at a Research Experience for Undergrads at Michigan State University this summer.

“We were both in the same program which is basically different projects targeted towards the plant sciences which is our main focus. We found out that our dorm rooms were right next door." Tara said. "We just met and kind of hung out a lot and kept in touch after the program ended. After the hurricane hit, I told her that she should come here and she was interested in (Humboldt State) anyway so that’s kind of how we got here.”

Both women had limited communication through texting, but Tara was able to convince Amanda to come to Arcata and stay on the north coast by purchasing a ticket out of Puerto Rico and en route to Humboldt County. In order to text Tara and confirm flight details she stood on her roof top with her phone held in the air.

Streets, homes and neighborhoods were destroyed in the wake of Hurricane Maria. Amanda Agosto said she would walk a few blocks past her home and see entire neighborhoods destroyed or flooded.
Credit Amanda Agosto

“That’s where I got service. And I had to put my phone there and I had to text like this,” Amanda said while re-enacting the scene with her phone held in the air.

After a delayed plane ride, a confusion of tickets at San Francisco Oakland Airport and another communication issue with fire activity impacting AT&T service, Amanda finally landed at the airport in McKinleyville. Upon arrival she said it was colder than she expected.

“When I left Puerto Rico, there was no air conditioner at the airport so I was wearing shorts. And then I got here and that was not appropriate," Amanda said with a laugh.

Both students were reunited and Amanda spent time checking out classes and programs at HSU. Before the hurricanes struck she used to work at a lab at the University of Puerto Rico, but now with the island’s destruction she can’t return to work or school because the campus was completely shut down. This worries her and said it also impacts her future academic goals like going to grad school

“Yeah I have friends who are taking the GRE for grad school and they’re flying out of Puerto Rico to take it because otherwise they’re not going to make the deadlines," Amanda said.  

Amanda is interested in transferring to HSU, and Tara wants her to consider attending. For now, Amanda is preparing to attend a conference in North Carolina and then returns to Puerto Rico, but she doesn’t intend to stay away from Humboldt County for long. Whether it’s for vacation or finishing up her degree, she’ll be back.