“People Are Desperate”: Puerto Rico’s Largest Jeweler Appeals for Help

The United States has been walloped by a number of hurricanes lately, but it seems like Mother Nature saved the worst for last.

On Sept. 20, category 4 Hurricane Maria made landfall on Puerto Rico. At press time, most of the island’s occupants were still without power or water. The island’s governor called its aftermath a “humanitarian disaster involving 3.4 million U.S. citizens.” The eventual death toll is expected to be in at least the hundreds.

For a personal perspective, JCK talked to Marie-Helene Morrow, the owner of 12-store Reinhold Jewelers, the territory’s largest jeweler. Morrow says it is just a fluke that she was off the island when the storm hit; she and her husband were at a doctor’s appointment in Dallas. Since the hurricane, she has been unable to return.

Still, she has kept in close touch with her employees and friends on the island who have cellphones. The news, she says, is almost all bad. Over a week after the storm first hit, little is back to normal. In fact, the situation is deteriorating, and a lot more help is needed.

“It’s a desperate situation,” she says. “The elderly in the hospitals are not getting the right care. Everything is closed. The supermarkets are shut. Almost all the food is brought in by boat and with the [now-waived] Jones Act, they all have to be delivered in a certain way. It’s one piece of bad news after another. There’s looting, bad guys out on the street. People have lost everything—their shoes, their socks—everything. They are desperate. There are so many people who are starving.”

So far, though, none of the chain’s 73 employees has been hurt. And even though all her stores are closed, she is committed to paying her employees through this period.

She expects possibly one store may open next week, though she admits retail is not top of mind right now.

“Who can think of the jewelry business or anything like that?” she says. “You just want the island to survive.”

In the end, though, she expects her adopted home to pull through.

“This is terrible and really, really bad, and yet I just know we will overcome and become the shining star of the Caribbean again. I have great faith in the Puerto Rican people. They are very caring people. I got there when I was 23 and now I’m 77. I have always felt like family there.”

For now, she can only watch the unfolding tragedy from afar. Friends on the island have warned her it’s not the time to come back. But she does want to return, hopefully soon.

“It’s a beautiful island, beautiful people. Puerto Rico is a family. There’s no discrimination in Puerto Rico. Everyone kisses and hugs. I can’t imagine a place I would rather live.”

Morrow says that her jewelry colleagues have been wonderful, with many reaching out and offering help. She recommends people donate to Unidos Por Puerto Rico, the fund established by the first lady of Puerto Rico.

(Top image from the Department of Defense; second image from FEMA)

JCK News Director