For nearly four days last week, men’s basketball sophomore Arnaldo Toro was unable to contact his family or confirm whether they were safe.
His parents, grandparents and extended family – who live in his hometown of Hormigueros, Puerto Rico – are still without access to electricity, running water and cleared roads after the island was devastated by Hurricane Maria last Wednesday.
The territory’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, described the damages as “apocalyptic,” including 95 percent of government buildings destroyed and more than 40 inches of rainfall causing flooding. More than 10,000 federal employees are in Puerto Rico providing aid.
“It was hard,” Toro said. “You look at the news and you see houses broken down and families on the street.”
Saturday night his family found a way to call and say they were safe. Although he hasn’t spoken to them since and couldn’t get in touch with any of his friends from home, Toro said the call left him confident that they would be OK.
“They were just happy to talk to me, and I was happy to talk to them,” Toro said. “There’s no power or water but they were able to drink water. There’s a river close to my house that they were able to wash clothes.”
The 6-foot-8-inch forward lived in Puerto Rico for his entire life before coming to the continental U.S. to play high school basketball his freshman year. He was among 60 GW students from Puerto Rico who were enrolled in the University in 2016, according to data from the Office of Institutional Research and Planning.
When he was 2 years old, Toro experienced a hurricane on the island, but it was not to this scale and he couldn’t remember what it was like to be there, he said.
Hormiguernos missed the brunt of the damage, but there were still downed trees, poles in the streets and numerous houses – including Toro’s relative’s – flooded. Toro’s father had been helping the community by moving objects out of the road to make room for cars, a practice that fits the mold of his hometown, he said.
“At least in my community, everybody’s humble, everybody knows each other, talks to each other if somebody needs help,” Toro said. “They’re right there for you.”
The Colonials players and coaches have helped Toro through the difficult time, understanding his situation and providing assurance and support, he said.
“My friends, my coaches sat down with me, asked me if I needed anything from them,” Toro said. “I’m just thankful to have good friends, good coaches.”
Following hurricanes Harvey and Irma, the University announced that they reached out to students from affected areas to offer support. GW did not release a statement about its efforts after Hurricane Maria.
Toro said he hopes to return to Puerto Rico over winter break, even if the island remains without power.
Over the past week, Toro has continued to attend classes and prepare for the upcoming basketball season. But the last couple of days have been hard for him because of the inevitable focus on his family’s situation, he said.
“You try not to get it into your head but of course it’s going to get you,” Toro said. “I’m always thinking to focus on basketball and school but you think about your family and if they’re OK.”
Toro said he was impressed by efforts such as the fundraiser launched by Dallas Mavericks player J.J. Barea, who has raised more than $140,000 and flew to Puerto Rico with supplies Monday. He said his uncle also ran a food drive in Texas that sent supplies down.
“I’m trying not to let it affect me as much as possible,” Toro said. “Keep my head straight, just stay positive and keep praying that everything’s gonna be OK.”
Toro and the Colonials still have six weeks before starting the season Nov. 10 against Howard.