Five years ago this month, ten student attorneys from the #UBLawResponds Puerto Rico Recovery Assistance Legal Clinic studied for weeks, then traveled south to provide a week of legal and policy assistance as well as direct service to those recovering from Hurricane Maria on the islands of Puerto Rico. This month, #UBLawResponds launches its sixth service-learning trip to Puerto Rico, this time just months after 2022’s Hurricane Fiona.
During the first two weeks of University at Buffalo School of Law’s 2023 “bridge” semester, enrolled students have attended 15 hours/week of in-class time, plus worked hard outside of class, including study, research, learning from experts both local and via Zoom, and collaborating with a small team of classmates on individual projects. They enter the second half of the course today, energized for our last week in New York and preparing for our trip south.
In addition to service-learning on the island post-Fiona, #UBLawResponds students and community-based experts will also produce a report on recent comparative recovery and response approaches here in WNY with those in Puerto Rico. We plan a report comparing the December 2022 Blizzard that hit western NY in late December 2022 to Hurricane Fiona. Our local event (named Elliott by the National Weather Service) was described by experts as a Category 3 Hurricane, but with snow. As a result of the blizzard, enormous damage ensued, electric and other utilities were out for extended periods, more than 40 people died. Efforts to recover in Buffalo and surrounding municipalities are still underway. #UBLawResponds will produce a short report reflecting on the lessons that these two eerily similar yet very different storms taught us in terms of appropriate disaster response and recovery.
The University at Buffalo is the state’s law school, and this clinic fits perfectly with New York Governor Kathy Hochul’s commitment to continue support to Puerto Rico. Hurricane Fiona, the worst storm to hit the island since Hurricane Maria in 2017, saw Governor Hochul coordinating with Puerto Rico Governor Pedro Pierluisito provide direct support in terms of troopers, New York Power Authority experts, and others. As the Governor noted in September, “New York knows full well the devastating impact that Mother Nature can bring, and that is why we stand ready to help the people of Puerto Rico recover and rebuild from this terrible storm…”December’s Hurricane/Blizzard caused by Winter Storm Elliott here in New York was indeed devastating. The work of the #UBLawResponds student attorneys will offer further concrete help in line with the state’s commitment to Puerto Rico’s communities and our clinical program’s commitment to local service.
Stay tuned over the coming weeks for more reports on #UBLawResponds University at Buffalo Student Attorneys and their instruction/administrative team as we get ready for the travel part of our service. Be sure to follow us on social media for up-to-the-minute reports! UB Law Clinics – Instagram; UB Law Clinics – Facebook; UB Law Clinics – Twitter