Xavier athlete from Puerto Rico leads donation drive for family, friends after Hurricane Maria

CINCINNATI -- In pictures sent from home, Laura Grossman's San Juan high school is barely recognizable. The desks, sitting under open skies, are littered with pieces of roofing, insulation and broken florescent lights. It looks like it survived an apocalypse

In a way, it did. Hurricane Maria's 155-mph winds hit Puerto Rico with enough force to knock it back in time: Nearly the entire island remained without electricity Wednesday night, passengers remained stranded on closed roads and in limited-capacity airports, and the American Red Cross fielded thousands of communications requests from Puerto Ricans cut off from family and friends by the failure of 91 percent of the island's cell towers.

At least 16 people had been confirmed dead Monday; the government said expected more confirmations as it labored to fully account for the storm damage.

And Grossman, a Xavier University student athlete born and raised on the island, couldn't directly reach her family and friends to help them. Even if she could, the scope of the problem is so large that recovery will likely take years.

"This is for the long term," she said. "My home just got destroyed, and that does not get fixed in a day."

But she knew she had to do what she could. Grossman spend Wednesday night on the sidelines of her team's volleyball game, collecting donations for the people she loves as well as the 3.4 million other American citizens who have no idea when their lives will return to normal.

"I was just like, I don't want to sit and do nothing anymore," she said. "Is there any way we can help?"

Cases of bottled water rolled in all evening from attendees with personal connections to the island as well as those who recognized the enormous need present there.

Alejandro Rodriguez, a Xavier freshman tennis player also from Puerto Rico, spent the evening dutifully carrying water and processing donations. He said he'd heard horror stories from his family about violence after dark, curfews and flooded streets.

"It's tough over there, they tell me," he said. "I call them every day to make sure they're fine."

Both he and Grossman said it was difficult to focus on their studies and athletics knowing their loved ones were in such uncertain circumstances.

"I'm over here, and I can't do much except spread the word and remind people anything is something," Grossman said.

If you would like to give to the victims of Hurricane Maria, you can donate cash online to organizations such as the Hispanic Federation and American Red Cross providing on-the-ground relief.

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